About Koval Single Barrel Rye Whiskey
"Being a craft distiller allows us to be flexible and bring a new approach to the market," says Sonat Birnecker, the founder of Koval Distillery. "Craft can be different. Different in business model. Different in product. Craft is a way to be creative." Together with her husband, Robert, Birnecker founded Koval Distillery — Chicago's first distillery since Prohibition — in 2008.
Koval Distillery, which is situated just a few feet away from Hollywood Beach in Chicago's North End, is dominated by a custom-made, 2,000 gallon, Kothe Destillationstechnik copper-pot still imported from Germany. "I come from a family that's been distilling for over a hundred years in Austria,"explains Robert, who has been distilling spirits himself since he was a child. "My grandfather had a distillery in Austria and I would help him to make different eau de vies and brandies when I was growing up. He taught me the importance of having the right equipment and using fresh, organic ingredients."
Koval Rye Whiskey is made from 100% organic rye grains, which the Birneckers source from a farmers' co-op in the Midwest. After the grains arrive at the distillery, Robert mashes and ferments them, before distilling them through his custom-made, copper-pot still. The still is equipped with an elongated whiskey helmet and a unique bubblecap design, which provide for greater surface area for the whiskey to develop its aromas and flavors of rye, cinnamon and baking spices.
Following distillation, Robert removes the heads and tails of the distillate and matures the hearts in new, charred American oak casks that are made by a bespoke cooperage in Minnesota. The casks lend flavors of cinnamon and baking spices to the rye, and complement its already spicy flavor with hints of vanilla and honey. "This is no ordinary rye," wrote the Wall Street Journal
"When we got started, we noticed that there was a real vacuum regarding distilling knowledge in the United States," says Robert, "If the majority of product being put out is good, it helps the entire industry. If somebody tries a crappy product that's labeled " craft' from somebody else, they're less likely to try our product. It's important to us that the whole industry grows with us. We don't want it to be a one-hit wonder, something that everyone rushes to and then it kind of dies down again."
Koval, which is a Yiddish term meaning blacksmith, is often used colloquially to refer to the blacksheep of the family.
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As American as the bald eagle, rye whiskey was first brewed in the American Northeast in the 1600s. Even George Washington distilled it after leaving the Oval Office, so there’s no way of denying its origin.
It’s distinguished from bourbon for its original and unique spicy notes.
By law, rye whiskey must be made from at least 51% rye grain, aged in new and charred oak barrels for at least two years, and bottled at no more than 62,5% ABV.
Check out our impressive selection of rye whiskeys, find your new favorites in The best-reviewed rye whiskeys, and explore our treasury of Best rye bottles under $100.