CHICAGOLAND HAS seen a spate of distillery openings in recent years, with most falling outside the city proper (e.g. North Shore, Few). Until 2008, that is, when Koval became the first to open inside city limits since Prohibition. Others have followed in their footsteps, but Koval still heads the pack of new brands redefining the Chicago micro-booze community—throwback, upscale, quirky, and a little bit sexy. Their portfolio is broad, primarily whiskey-oriented but with several flavored liqueurs and brandies as well.
Four Grain Whiskey, reflecting the Midwest’s copious grain harvests, brings a diverse list of ingredients together in a single-barrel bottling of 94 proof. Its complex combination of oat, barley, rye, and wheat makes for a substantial presence on the palate and an almost confusing combination of flavors—banana, peanut butter, bread, and cereal sweetness, plus an array of fruit notes (peach, melon) and moderate oak from its approximate two years of barrel-aging. The finish is spicy, quite protracted, and a touch too cloying. Overall it’s a striking experience that could be magic in certain cocktails, but its lack of balance makes it a gamble for neat sipping: some may love its luscious boldness, others will find it cumbersome. Perhaps this was precisely the intent, as Koval seems disinterested in just sticking to the status quo or taking the middle path. Moreover, all their products are 100% organic and kosher, which goes some way to explaining the $50 tag. But not entirely. Better if it’d just spent more time in barrel to help it grow into its broad-shouldered frame.