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Whiskey Review: Koval Bourbon

Koval bourbon
image copyright The Whiskey Wash

We wrote about Chicago craft distiller Koval earlier this year in an in-depth piece about the distillery’s history and vision. Koval, the first legal distillery in Chicago since Prohibition, churns out various unique takes on American whiskey, in addition to playful liqueurs with flavors such as rose hip, orange blossom, and chrysanthemum & honey. They focus on making unexpected spirits in a city once infamous for its bootlegging past.

Their classic Koval bourbon is a shining example of this, which we check out in this review.

Koval, coming in at 47% ABV (94 proof) is a bourbon whiskey with the requisite 51% corn, but makes up the other 49% with the rather curious choice of millet grain. Only cutting in the “heart” of the distillate (meaning no heads or tails), it proves for a very clean expression. Their organic, unfiltered, single barrel approach also aids in creating a bourbon that is both a showcase for the grains and a nod to the craft whiskey renaissance we are so lucky to be experiencing right now in the US.

Koval bourbon itself appears caramel in the glass, akin to what we would normally expect from a stereotypical bourbon. However, on the nose it becomes immediately clear that Koval is no average bourbon. Ethanol behind tart tropical fruit immediately hits the nose, followed by subtle sweetness, pepper, and melted butter. Koval doesn’t strike the nose as a typical bourbon expression.

On the palate, the first impression is remarkably like Smarties. The addition of millet to corn yields a soft chalkiness to the spirit, which is expressed in a sweet, starchy manner as opposed to a tannic manner. The warm tropical tart elements on the nose follow through on Koval’s finish. Like chewing the paper that always sticks to candy buttons, Koval leaves a pleasant powdery taste on the palate after sipping, in addition to dried fruit and pepper. Sulphured apricots come to mind last.

At around $50 for 750 ml, Koval is certainly not a cheap bourbon. However, simply for the childlike mirth of tasting Koval for the first time, I would absolutely recommend the spirit to anyone looking to shake up their conception of what American bourbon is today.

The ingenuity and clear vision behind the spirit, in addition to its truly unique take on bourbon, merit it a 94.

Savannah Weinstock

I am a graduate of Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR whose Environmental Studies thesis focused on “Scotch Whisky, Sustainability, and Commodification of Nature & Culture”. While writing my thesis, I spent time living and studying in Glasgow, Scotland where I visited and interviewed distilleries nationwide, concentrating on the Hebridean Isles. I am currently working in the industry getting up-close and personal with whisk(e)y, spirits, and cocktails every day.

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