When I first started working in the liquor trade (or "adult beverage industry" as modern euphemism would call it) the vodka boom was just beginning. Starting with Grey Goose, we saw one vodka after another hit the shelves, in increasingly fancy bottles with increasingly high price tags. Trouble was, with vodka the better it is, the less there is too it, and so much of those high price tags were nothing but marketing. So I was thankful in the last few years when Bourbon, Rye, and whiskey in general became trendy. I may rail on the Brooklyn/moustache/artisinal hipster crowd, but the rising popularity of whiskey and the greater availability of interesting selections has been a welcome by-product of that culture.
Most interesting to me have been the new crop of whiskies that don't fall into the traditional three categories of Bourbon, Scotch or Rye. It's been fun to taste some of the interesting things that a number of newer distillers have brought us. In recent months I've tried a number of spirits labeled only as "American Whiskey" that have been well crafted and memorable. Favorite among them has the been the whiskies of Chicago's Koval Distillery.
I've been lucky enough to have tried three of their offerings lately. Oat whiskey is a big and chewy like a good Bourbon, but nowhere near as sweet. Despite its fatness, it's light on its feet and smooth as silk. The rye whiskey is spicy as one might expect, but balanced by an interesting banana cream quality that is quite striking. It made one hell of a drink with ice and Fever Tree Bitter Lemon. I personally purchased a bottle of Four Grain, pictured above. Distilled from an unusual mash bill of oats, barley, rye, and wheat, it is packed with flavors of bread and spice wrapped in a vaguely fruity background. Again, deceptively light, this one wears it 94 proof quite well. While there is a clear and cohesive house style to all these whiskies, I have to say my favorite thing about them may just be the difficulty I have in describing them, as they don't cleanly compare to the whiskies I've had before. In a business fraught with hifalutin lingo and silly descriptors, its nice to encounter a product that defies all that but is simply so good that its quality can't be denied.
Koval's whiskies are all made of organic grain grown by Mid-Western farmers and are rested in custom made new oak barrels.With bonus points awarded for the clean but approachable modernism of their package design, Koval seems to prove that "artisinal" hipsterism can exist without being completely obnoxious, or maybe I'm just saying that because they aren't that hip. If you're a jaded whiskey drinker who thinks he's tasted it all, seek these guys out for the refreshing experience of trying something new.Hovering at about $50 for each type, Koval whiskies are worth every penny.
To "rah!rah!rah!" Chicago liquors a little bit more, FEW distilleries in Evanston makes an outstanding barrel aged Gin which is tangy, smooth, and is flavored with herbs grown on the roof of the building. Definitely worth a try!
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