Since its inception in 2008, Chicago’s Koval Distillery has earned a reputation as one of the nation’s most forward-thinking craft producers. As we’ve written in the past, it’s a distillery with a unique, distinctive voice and clear sense of direction, both in terms of what they make and how they make it.
While founders Sonat and Robert Birnecker originally conceived Koval as a brandy-centric operation—Robert learned brandy distilling from his Austrian grandfather—they quickly shifted their focus to whiskey. All their spirits are organic, and, unlike most distillers, they use none of the so-called heads or tails of a run, which they say makes for a uniquely clean spirit.
Koval’s lineup is similarly distinctive. They’ve got weirdo selections like their sunchoke spirit, millet and oat whiskeys, and are experimental in terms of what goes into their more easily categorized expressions. Their bourbon, for instance, is made with the requisite 51% corn, but the remainder, instead of malt or rye, is millet.
Koval is the kind of craft distillery that excites me—one that deals not just in concepts like “small-batch” and “handmade” but in actual innovation and experimentation.
Koval Four Grain is made, as the name says, with four different grains, but probably not the four grains you’re thinking of. Unlike most whiskeys in this category, Koval’s take contains no corn, and is instead made with a mash of oats, malted barley, wheat, and rye. Like their other spirits, it contains only the “heart cut,” and is aged in “heavily charred” new oak from Minnesota. It’s bottled at 47% ABV.
Tasting Notes: Koval Four Grain
Color: Medium amber, quite reddish
Nose: The first impression is strong banana, in multiple forms. Actual bananas, banana runts, even—no shade intended—a whiff of 99 Bananas, my favorite artificially-flavored schnapps. There’s also a creaminess to it: bananas foster over ice cream? Moving on from the banana zone, it’s sprightly, with airy biscuit and light candy notes—confectioner’s sugar and vanilla frosting.
Palate: Surprisingly un-candy-like, after the nose, with pie crust, cinnamon, and sticky dried fig. Pleasantly mouth-coating. I get some maple syrup and faint oak on the finish.
Final Score and Thoughts:
In one word, I would describe this whiskey as “fun.” I’m not sure what I expected going in, but it certainly wasn’t this—it’s a true surprise from start to finish, with just enough biscuit and a solid-enough mouthfeel to balance out the light sweetness of the nose. It would pair well with a creamy dessert, or a late-night viewing of Clueless.