Koval is the first small batch distillery in Chicago since the Prohibition era, and one of the leading craft distilleries in the US. It was founded in 2008, by Robert and Sonat Birnecker who abandoned their academic careers to follow their hearts.
Growing up, Robert lived near Salzburg, Austria, and was immersed in a culture of small batch distilling. Koval supports sustainable agriculture and is certified as both organic and kosher.
They have expanded their product lines to Gin, Whiskey, Liqueurs. They are rated as one of the top ten small-batch distilleries in the US.
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Koval translates to "blacksmith," in numerous Eastern European languages, but the word in Yiddish can also mean "black sheep" (aka someone who marches to the beat of a their own drum, how apropos!)
Koval is Chicago’s first distillery since the 1800s.
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Koval is the first small batch distillery in Chicago since the dark days of the Prohibition era, and one of the premier craft distilleries in the US.
Koval was founded in 2008 by Robert and Sonat Birnecker (who abandoned their academic careers to follow their hearts). Robert comes from a background of small batch distilling, growing up in Salzburg, Austria.
Koval distillery supports sustainable agriculture, certified as both organic and kosher they produce everything from Gin, to Whiskey, to Liqueurs, and have recently been touted as one of the top ten small-batch distilleries in the US.
Their grain-to-bottle mentality is what makes every step of their spirit-making process a sustainable, conscious effort. They contract local farmers to grow the grain, and do all milling and mashing on-site as well as the distilling, bottling, and packaging.
Koval has received numerous international awards and has grown to be one of America’s pioneering small batch, independent spirit manufacturers. All KOVAL Spirits can be traced back to their barrel, and even the specific shipments of raw materials that come from their organic farmers.
A transcript for non-audio situations
I feel that our heritage got us where we are today. It also starts with the name Koval, which was a nickname given to my great grandfather Monic, who was from Vienna and he walked down the stairs one day, turn of the century, and said: “I'm leaving, I'm going to start a business in America.” Everyone thought he was completely insane and he says: ''You know what, no, it's all about America.'' And he earned his nickname Koval, which in many eastern European languages means smith or blacksmith. But in Yiddish it has like a little extra meaning, which is somebody who forges ahead. And somebody who does something out of the ordinary, and is a little bit of a black sheep in the family. So in the name itself we’re honoring his heritage of both sides of our family and that sort of his propelled us forward.
My name is Sonat Birnecker Hart and I am the co-founder and president of Koval Distillery in Chicago – the firstdistillery in Chicago since the mid-1800s. We pioneered not only a new style of American Whiskey, that focuses on only the heart cut of the distillate, but have been lauded for using alternative grains, such as millet, and oat in our Whiskeys. When we make a Rye, for example a 100% Rye, so like that, we believe in doing everything 100%, and we enjoy the traceability of our products all the way back to the fields.
We had a very strong philosophy going into it, we wanted to make the highest quality product, we wanted to use organic greens, we wanted our products to be certified Kosher, we wanted to use the best part of the distillate which is called the heart cut of the distillate, which is actually a style of distilling that's popular among Brandy distillers in Germany and Austria, Switzerland, but we applied it to grain, which has never really been done before in America, and so this is sort of a school of distilling, that we've introduced to America.
The biggest challenge was being the first to Chicago, and with that, you know, we entered into a legal environment that hadn't really been touched since prohibition. Having a business like ours, that's manufacturing but it's also a lot about hospitality, is that we're able to extend a level of hospitality to the neighborhood that's extended it to us. In this industry, particularly now, you're seeing that design becomes a true force to ultimately get noticed and if one is not taking care to make sure that not only what's inside the bottle is wonderful but also what's on the outside. And it's exciting I mean it sort of raises the bar.
We are probably one of the largest independent artists and distilleries in America that is completely 100% family owned and operated. Our distribution is almost worldwide right now. That footprint is, is really grown quite a bit and now we need to develop those markets so that's one thing that we're gonna be focusing on but we're always coming out with new and interesting products and that's just part of who we are. Because it's fun to do that and we enjoy creating. We enjoy doing unique and interesting things.
When we decided to leave our careers to do this we wanted to make sure that in doing this we had our own identity. For us it was about doing things the absolute best. It's about making sure that we're doing things consciously and giving back to our community. We wanted to make sure that we differentiated ourselves in really two ways: one was process, the other way was also the raw materials. So we're all about doing things 100% with innovation and with creativity. We want to create products that go that extra mile because, I mean, that's who we are.