When Koval Distillery announced plans in 2017 to build a tasting room to highlight its whiskies, gins, and other spirits, its owners hoped to wrap up the project by the end of 2019. Now — after four years, a zoning change, and a pandemic-induced pivot to hand-sanitizer production — Koval plans to open the long-awaited drinking space on Friday, October 1 at 4241 N. Ravenswood Avenue.
The distillery is another piece along Malt Row, a nickname for the area that includes breweries Begyle, Dovetail, Empirical, Smylie Brothers, Spiteful, and Half Acre.
Koval is a family-owned business, co-founded in 2008 by spouses Sonat Birnecker Hart and Robert Birnecker with an emphasis on organic spirits, distilled with grains that aren’t treated with chemicals. They now have a bright and airy tasting room that feels like an elegant, minimalist living room — albeit one that seats about 96. Outfitted with a creamy marble bar, trendy ‘70s-inspired Italian leather sofas, and wall art created by Birnecker Hart’s mother and aunt, the room was designed by Dando Projects, the firm also behind Koval’s labels.
“Now people can see Koval in the most thorough way possible — take a tour, come relax on the patio and try some of the things we personally enjoy eating,” Birnecker Hart says. “It’s a full experience we couldn’t offer before.”
When weather allows, customers walk through French doors to an outdoor space with room for 30 beside an ivy-covered brick wall facing the Metra tracks. The co-founders in 2017 purchased the building where the company had for years produced its alcohol, but had to rezone the property to move forward with efforts to consolidate all components of their business under one roof.
The tasting room drink menu will debut with 11 cocktails featuring Koval products like Sweater Weather (four grain, caraway liqueur, chrysanthemum and honey liqueur, essential oils) and a barrel-aged Manhattan (rye, rose hip liqueur, sweet vermouth). Staff will tweak the menu seasonally.
Patrons can also choose among Koval’s “perfect pairs” — liquor tastes with small bites, including bourbon with a Latin American alfajor (a favorite of Birnecker Hart’s late father). Other options include flights (whiskey, gin, or liqueur), coffee and espresso drinks, and small food plates such as a Basque cheesecake from local institution Eli’s Cheesecake and breads from suburban Evanston bakery Hewn.
Koval has developed a potent following since it opened, drawing locals and visitors to its distillery tours and gift shop. For ownership, the tasting room represents the last piece of the puzzle for customers: “We want people to feel as if they’re coming into our home,” Birnecker Hart says. “It’s a very personal space, like welcoming people into our living room.”
Koval Distillery tasting room, 4241 N. Ravenswood Avenue, Scheduled to open Friday, October 1.