Following successful academic careers, Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart and her husband, Dr. Robert Birnecker, decided to bring the distilling traditions of Robert’s Austrian family to the U.S., taking them on a journey that resulted in the founding of KOVAL Distillery in 2008.
Today, KOVAL Distillery produces organic whiskey, liquors, and specialty spirits from scratch. The company partners with local organic farmers who grow and send grains to KOVAL which manufactures its products on-site in Ravenswood (4241 N. Ravenswood Avenue). KOVAL also recently moved its store within the distillery at this location.
It’s a great example of how manufacturing has shifted from large companies to smaller neighborhood artisanal businesses that provide high-quality jobs without requiring advanced degrees.
KOVAL only uses the “heart cut” of the distillate, making its products stand out due to their clean taste; they’re also organic and kosher. For example, the company uses 100% Midwestern grown organic rye to make its rye whiskey whereas other brands only use the minimum 51% rye blend.
Take a look inside KOVAL by watching this video, From Grain to Bottle.
Some of the places where you can find KOVAL products include: Whole Foods, Target, Binny’s, Beer Temple, Cellar Door Provisions, and many neighborhood liquor stores.
At the time of its founding, KOVAL Distillery faced many challenges including high start-up costs for equipment such as copper stills and 30-gallon drums, securing affordable real estate that could accommodate its needs, and outdated laws governing distilleries. These laws prevented the business from setting up a tasting room, selling retail on-site, and hosting tours.
Fortunately, Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart (pictured above right) has always been a strong policy advocate.
Shortly after launching KOVAL, she organized meetings with her alderman and Members of the Illinois General Assembly, resulting in the creation of a Craft Distiller’s license in the State of Illinois. Her persistent advocacy elevated the craft distilling industry in Illinois and made it possible for distilleries to compete fairly with wineries and breweries.
Another way that KOVAL overcame high startup costs was by responding to strong community interest in distilling. After word spread about the company, KOVAL received numerous calls from people wanting to know more about the business, the type of equipment that distilling requires, and general tips for distilling.
Because KOVAL was already the manufacturers’ representative of equipment firms in Germany and other parts of Europe, the company decided to offer workshops and consulting services to the public.
Remarkably, KOVAL has helped start 200 distilleries in Canada and the U.S. and educated over 3500 people about spirits.
North Branch Works members and supporters can help KOVAL by purchasing its products, which are available online, and suggesting that venues carry them if they don’t already.
And please visit KOVAL’s bar and patio when it opens after the pandemic winds down. Stay tuned for an opening announcement.
We’re proud to count KOVAL Distillery as a member and especially grateful to Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart for her service on North Branch Works’ Board of Directors.
To connect with KOVAL Distillery, please reach out to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image credits: KOVAL Distillery