(Not from Chicago? Google “distillery tour near me”)
Not every distillery tour is the same. The process is very similar, but the result is very different from one brand to another. Plus, this was a great way to spend a cold, snowy afternoon.
Established in 2008, Koval is the first distillery within the Chicago city limits since the Prohibition era. The tour takes place in a small storefront in the Ravenswood neighborhood with the actual production facility about a mile up the road. One of the things I learned on the tour is that Koval is the largest organic distillery in Illinois (maybe the US? I was trying to pay attention and take notes at the same time). One aspect of organic distilling is the use of organic barley. This is more expensive, however, they are also using local farmers as their suppliers. Another quality that makes the whiskey organic is the use of virgin oak casks. They purchase all of their barrels built and charred from scratch. This prevents the spirit from coming into contact with any non-organic material. You would think this would result in a surplus of barrels, however, they can be sold for re-use. Besides other distilleries (that don’t require virgin casks), they also sell them to breweries who produce bourbon-barrel aged ales. Additionally, the average consumer can purchase a used one for their home décor needs for the small price of $150.00.
While walking us through the distillation process, we learned that Koval’s signature style is to only use the “heart”, or the middle process of the distillation, in their spirits. The full distillation process produces what are known as the “head”, “heart”, and “tails”. I could not even begin to describe these stages or at what point these are cut. This link explains it perfectly and in simple terms.
Now, what would a distillery tour be without a tasting or two (or three)? Whiskey is not the only spirit produced at Koval. They also bottle and sell gins, brandys, and other flavored liqueurs. Our first tasting was of their single barrel bourbon whiskey. 110 proof. Boom. Now I’ve got that warm toasty feeling inside. The second tasting was of their new cranberry gin liqueur. I do not like gin, but I tried it anyway. The cranberry flavor was definitely present, but it did not overpower the gin itself. Our third, and final, tasting was a personal choice. I chose the peach brandy. I regret my choice only because I heard, after the fact, that the ginger liqueur was a big hit. This is their second best seller after the single barrel bourbon whiskey (the regular version, not the 110 proof).
The tour, should you decide to take it, is only $10 per person. You can also find this activity on Groupon. This one is limited to Sundays at either 2:00 pm or 4:00 pm. They have an option for a group of two ($19) or four ($35). The bonus is that you get to leave with a souvenir shot glass.