Getting To the Root Of Chicago's KOVAL Gin

Recently we had the chance to talk with Abby Boler over at KOVAL. The distillery produces several spirits and we wanted to dive in and really get to the root for their love of gin and what makes it stand out from the competition. 

The Origins of KOVAL Gin

We’re always curious as to how a distillery started. Some are large, corporate entities, and yet just as many are founded by family members. According to KOVAL, husband and wife Dr. Robert Birnecker and Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart founded the distillery in 2008. At the time, they wanted to focus on the production of rye grain whiskey. With easy access to rye produced throughout the Midwest, it made perfect sense. However, three years in they decided to also produce a rye-based gin. Gin doesn’t require the same extended aging process as whiskey, even when barrel-aged, so adding KOVAL gin made it possible to both focus on the longer aging of whiskey while also producing a spirit with a faster turnaround.

The Birneckers said they wanted to enjoy a fine gin at room temperature, all on its own. They also liked the idea of crafting a gin using the same base as their rye white whiskey.

Production Stands Out

The team at KOVAL pointed out their Chicago gin doesn’t cut any corners. To produce the finest quality gin they only use the finest quality products. However, it doesn’t stop there. They use what is referred to as a “heart cut” distilling method. Instead of using an entire botanical in distillation, they trim back and cut away anything that isn’t of exceptional quality. This does slow down the process as it requires a vigorous quality control process, but it helps prevent off-tasting batches and elevates the overall quality of the gin’s finish.
KOVAL pulls from several regional products. With Chicago’s location on the banks of Lake Michigan, all water used is charcoal filtered Great Lakes water. The company also uses rye grains sourced within a 150 miles radius of the Chicago distillery.

Other botanicals used to make KOVAL gin includes rosehips, cardamom, lemongrass, plus a number of citrus-floral elements.

Several Different Spirits

As the folks at KOVAL pointed out, they first started with the production of rye whiskies before moving into the world of gin. Since establishing itself as a pioneer in the U.S. gin distillation market, the company has added two additional gins.

The base gin is the KOVAL Dry gin. Five years later they released their Barreled Gin, and then in 2018 came their Cranberry Gin Liqueur.

Following the heart cut distillation process, they end up with the very best 60% of the distillate. This is then used in one of the three gins, so all three gins share similar tasting notes as each is produced using the same base.

The gin to be used for their Barreled Gin is placed into previously used rye whiskey barrels, which in turn subdues the strong botanical taste of fresh gin, resulting in a deliciously mellow drinking experience. The team at KOVAL really enjoys this gin as it is perfect for both gin and whiskey lovers.

The third gin is their Cranberry Gin Liqueur. With the heart cut, they then add fresh cranberries plus a small hint of cane sugar. This gives it a beautiful pink color and an extra layer of flavor.


Success and Distillery Favorites

In the almost ten years of distilling gin, KOVAL has brought home a number of awards and recognitions. In fact, according to KOVAL, they have been recognized over 100 times internationally for not only the taste of their gins but also the exceptional design utilized in the bottling.

Most recently, their KOVAL Dry Gin received a Double Gold award from the Women’s Wine and Spirits Award. They also received a Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition while also being named Best in Show by the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition.

KOVAL’s latest gin, KOVAL Cranberry Gin Liqueur, received a Gold Medal for its bottle design (created by Dando Projects out of New York) at the SIP Awards and the GDUSA American Graphic Design Awards. KOVAL Cranberry Gin Liqueur also received a Gold Medal at BTI’s Innovative Spirit Awards. It also received the Best American Gin Liquor at the World Liqueur Awards.


With their award-winning gins, KOVAL has several cocktails they love to produce with their gins. While sipping the smooth tasting gins at room temperature is always a treat, there are a few specific cocktails they tend to reach for when making mixed drinks. When using their traditional Dry Gin, they like to go with the classic cocktails, such as a martini, as it helps highlight the bright, floral, and citrus palette of the gin. When reaching for their Barreled Gin they’ve found it works phenomenally in a Negroni, as it helps lend a gentle whiskey note to it while letting the other ingredients blend beautifully with the gin. However, above all else, their go-to cocktail is a spritz using the Cranberry Gin Liqueur. For this, they take 2 ounces of the Cranberry Gin, 3 ounces of sparkling water and just a splash of Prosecco over ice. They love the taste as it is simple, yet refreshing.

With an ever-growing distribution of KOVAL gin, now is the perfect time to not only grab your own bottle but check out our reviews of the different KOVAL gins. We dive deeper into the unique tastes of the gin as well as offer suggestions for your next gin cocktail with KOVAL.