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Sweet Home Chicago

Taking a look at Koval’s Rye & Four Grain Whiskeys

This week, we’re headed home to review not one, but a pair of whiskies from local distiller, Koval. After reviewing two single malt Scotch whiskies and one bourbon, we thought we would look to cover some prominent, yet less well known types of whiskeys. Koval is an excellent brand for this purpose, with the distillery creating whiskey from many different grains. Along the way we’ll try to highlight some of the nuances from the first legal distillery to open in Chicago since Prohibition.

The craft spirits industry has exploded in the past decade, with new brands emerging seemingly each week. Koval was established in 2008 and has quickly made an impact. With whiskey, gin, vodka, and several liquors, the company is not afraid to try new ideas. In addition, all of Koval’s whiskies are certified organic and single barrel. The latter indicates that each bottle was taken from the contents of a particular barrel rather than a blending of the output of several barrels.

We discovered Koval at a local farmer's market and tried some of their offerings shortly after. We thought the flavor of the samples was unique and, since the distillery was located close by, we decided to visit. Our tasting experience was very informative, as Koval had one of their stills in action on display. We learned that the equipment and process Koval employs has a lineage to European whiskey and spirits distillation techniques. In addition, the tasting experience showed us how nimble and flexible a distillery could be. Using smaller barrels allows Koval to effectively age their spirits faster, and as a result, the company has been able to produce a bewildering range of products in a short time. At the end of the tour, we tried a wide variety of their spirits and went home with several bottles of their whiskey and liquors. Our cabinet hasn’t been without a Koval product ever since.

Koval also produces handy sample packs that give you the chance to taste some of the variety available without committing to buying a regular-sized bottle. The sample packs make great gifts and we’ve given quite a few out over the years for holidays and to our wedding party. The whiskeys for our reviews came from a package that included a 200ml bottle each of bourbon, four grain, and rye whiskey, and we chose to sample the rye and the four grain varieties. While the makeup of the rye is straightforward, the four grain contains oat, rye, wheat, and malted barley.

The packaging for Koval’s whiskeys is minimalist yet elegant. While a standard-shaped bottle (even at the smaller size) its labels that have a clean, modern feel and make it clear that the whiskey inside is organic and single barrel.


On the Eyes:

The rye is a bright amber color and is fairly viscous, suggesting a rich and elegant dram.

On the Nose:

Our first instinct was the scent of freshly cut grass and foliage, but this scent quickly translated into a very floral, and delicate aroma.

To the Taste:

We thought this rye started very subtle and clean with a malty character up front. However, this was quickly followed with the taste of black pepper with the heat building quickly. The flavor was delicate and not overwhelming.

And the Finish:

After the heat subsided, the finish was excellent with a strong character of butterscotch and caramel.


On the Eyes:

The four grain whiskey has a deeper amber color than the rye, with more of a reddish hue. Giving the glass a swirl showed a similar thickness to the rye.

On the Nose:

The nose brought forth memories of fresh bread dough—malt, yeast, and a subtle warmth that faded into a sweet floral scent. The aroma definitely suggests complexity a bit deeper than the rye.

To the Taste:

The initial taste was clean and sweet, with a flavor that for one of us consistently evoked the taste of banana bread. Soon after the flavor transformed to something more herbal and refreshing—almost like unsweetened iced tea.

And the Finish:

On the back end, like the rye, we had a similar, but stronger impression of butterscotch and caramel sweetness with a long, lingering finish.

While both whiskeys have very similar characteristics, we found the four grain narrowly edged out the rye during our side-by-side comparison. The combination of the four grains adds a depth and complexity to the aptly named whiskey that is slightly more interesting than the rye, and is one of the reasons we always stock a four grain in our cabinet. 



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