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.

About the author

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.

  • Rice Delman

    A 94? Seriously? I went to Koval today, tried the bourbon, then googled reviews when I got home to see what others thought. It was hands-down the worst bourbon I’ve ever had. “It’s 2 years old, but we age it more quickly” said the guy working. Oh really? How does that work? Your 2 years are somehow longer than everyone else’s?

    It tasted like wet wood with heavy ethanol. Very young, awful stuff.

  • jon

    I liked it.
    But am wondering what kind of Environmental Studies program has such a thesis. Mine were heavy into chemistry, and engineering. Mine was comparing air volatilization models for pesticides from soil.
    I think I like whiskey topic better.

  • Bourbon Badger

    Nose: Acetate, Nail Polish Remover, Super Glue, Industrial Adhesive, Green/Wet Oak
    Palate: Exactly the same as the nose, like drinking nail polish remover aged in green oak barrels, ethanol kick is not pleasant and is prevalent.
    Finish: Ruins your palate for the entire day, everything you drink after drinking this Koval bourbon, tastes like this horrid Koval bourbon.
    I too feel this is the WORST bourbon I have ever had, hand’s down. I don’t even know what I’m going to do with the bottle, I’ve only had the one drink and I’ll NEVER, EVER, drink it again. I can’t even give this to my worst enemy as a joke, it’s just too unkind. Guess I’ll have to keep it to use to clean my paint brushes. $50 down the drain….

  • Buco

    After I bought the bottle and before I opened it I saw this review and then read the comments which made me feel horrified thinking I got one of the most expensive bourbons I ever bought and wasted my money.
    My first sip and that first pour started more or less like the previous comments but then it turned into something completely different, for the better. Much better. It’s unlike any other bourbon or whiskey I had. It has sweetness but not the one that characterizes most bourbons. It more like apricot. Then it goes down extremely smooth. I always drop a cube of ice in the glass though. Without it, it has some moth burn and a slight medicinal nose. Two other people with whom I opened the bottle though pretty much the same like what I felt and tested.

  • Lewis Stubbs

    The first two comments must be from people who know nothing about bourbon or are just competitors looking to damage the Koval reputation.