If you don’t know what’s there, it would be really easy to continue driving on Foster Avenue past its intersection with Ravenswood on the north side of Chicago. My JD and I had gotten complimentary passes (Thank you, John!) to tour Koval Distillery, so we definitely knew to stop. This beautiful, tree-lined neighborhood replete with bungalows that runs along the “el” tracks just seems, well, ordinary.
It doesn’t seem like the kind of place where a couple who had left academia would decide to buy a distillery instead of a house, or the kind of place that would start the nation’s independent craft spirits movement. Nor does it seem like the type of place where not only the first distillery in Chicago since the 1800s would be located, but also the first organic distillery period. All of the grains are local, kosher, organic, and grown within 150 miles of Chicago. But that is exactly what it is. If there weren’t a banner on the building that said “Koval”, you would most likely keep on driving.
We had wanted to go to Koval for well over a year, so were so excited when the day finally came. As we turned off of Foster, onto Ravenswood, the fun started before we even got there.
Oh look, Empirical Brewing!
We knew of them from microbrew festivals, and had one of their stickers on our freezer, but didn’t know where they were located. The sign on the door said that the tour includes a flight, a complimentary pint glass and that we would get to see their world famous cats. We immediately tried to figure out how we could do that since we were in the neighborhood. It didn’t work out, but it will someday soon. I want to see those cats, one of whom has over 2,000 twitter followers, including yours truly.
Ooooh! Metropolitan. Metropolitan? I love Dynamo Copper. What, they don’t give tours? Darn.
I think Begyle Brewing is around here… Shoot, we should’ve brought the growler.
Begyle shares a building with the Chicago Mosaic School, where we had once taken a class, so we knew where it was, or thought we did. That building is actually 1 ½ miles south of that day’s destination. Had we known, though, we still would’ve brought the growler.
Despite the distractions, we got to Koval in time. When we got our tasting glasses at the beginning of the tour, I knew we were in for a treat. I had sampled their dry gin on a few occasions, and was eager to taste what else was in store. As our tour guide, Katie, was explaining the differences between “tail” “heart” and “head” as related to the distilling process, we sampled different whiskey varieties. This sampling continued my “whiskey evolution” which started earlier this year with Tullamore D.E.W.
I had always liked the idea of sipping whiskey, but after numerous tries over the years, could never call myself a whiskey drinker. I still can’t. But, I find the aesthetics of the act very appealing, like how the smooth amber liquid swirls around in the rocks glasses, or the small snifters. I always wanted a reason to use glasses like those.
Now, my JD is a whiskey expert, so he reiterated what I thought I heard Katie say. At Koval, they don’t malt their barley. This means that they have to add the necessary enzymes that normally come from malting the grain, so their Rye Whiskey, like most of them, has a smooth rich flavor. After tasting all of these whiskeys, I could see myself sipping the occasional whiskey, Koval of course.
Near the end of the tour, we tasted what I had been waiting for, the liqueurs. In my opinion these are one of the most interesting things Koval produces. The flavors are as unique as they are: Jasmine, Ginger, Caraway, Rose Hip, Sunchoke, and Walnut to name a few.
Katie was gracious enough to let us try many of them. I bought the two which were my favorites, Chrysanthemum & Honey and Rose Hip. I have tasted neither Chrysanthemums nor Rose Hips, but the best way to describe the former is that it tastes like a carefree sunny day with a bit of honey. The Rose Hip tastes like Christmas night, after you have opened your presents, spent time with loved ones, and you’re snug and content in from the cold. This, of course, is when I’ll be enjoying this liqueur.
One could spend a whole day within a couple of miles of the Ravenswood/Foster intersection; touring breweries and a distillery, having a good meal, and checking out the Chicago Mosaic School. In the summer you could even just explore the neighborhood. If you eat at Empirical, you could order out from one of the restaurants in the area or bring your own lunch.
This is why I love travel; you never know what you’ll find less than an hour from home.