Whiskey Review: Koval Four Grain

Koval Four GrainSince 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.

About the author

Katelyn Best

Katelyn is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon. She's a regular contributor to the Whiskey Wash with an affinity for the unique and weird side of whiskey.

  • Ryan

    I did a tour of their distillery a couple of weeks ago. While, I really enjoyed most of their offerings, their Four Grain was easily my favorite, and the only one I bought a bottle of. Their oat, and rye were my 2nd and 3rd favorites. I think this a pretty cool place that offers a different take from traditional whiskeys and is an interesting bottle to have on your shelf.

  • Spotter_TX

    I happened upon this whiskey from one of their very charming brand ambassadors at King’s Liquor in Austin, Texas on my way home recently. Its creamy smoothness immediately won me over, so much so that I spent my whiskey budget that night on Koval Four Grain instead of the bottle of Angel’s Envy I was there to get. They seem to be well stocked in most of the Austin area stores that I frequent. Great review! Y’all are by far the best reviewers of whiskey anywhere. The honest (and beautifully written) opinions purveyed here are what keep me coming back!