Koval co-founder Robert Birnecker was in London yesterday for the launch of his whiskeys in the UK.
By means of introduction to his unconventional range, Birnecker provided an introduction to the US craft distilling movement in general, and outlined his approach to craft distilling. He pointed out the huge increase in distilleries in the US in the time that Koval has been operational (since he set up the distillery with his wife Sonat in 2008), which now numbered as many as 900, he said.
He addressed the thorny question of the definition of 'craft', saying that 'for us craft means using everything out there to make high quality spirit - every available tool and technology'. In addition, and in opposition to at least some craft distillers, he stated the belief that 'you have to make something repeatable'.
When it comes to the whiskeys themselves, Birnecker has gone his own way when it comes to mash bills, using some unconventional grains. He presented a 100% millet whiskey, aged for three years - a vibrant, lively spirit with distinct grain character and a lifted lemon pith freshness on the palate. His 100% rye - a rarity in the world of whiskey - was a masterclass in this particular grain, distinctively spicy, with an appealing floral note.
Bourbon saw a return of millet in the mash bill, together with the requisite corn, while the excellent Four Grain combined oats, malted barley, rye and wheat. The latter showed appealing nutty notes, along with tropical fruit notes and a touch of cocoa.
In describing his production and ageing process for these, Birnecker said: 'What I've learnt is that you can't cheat time.' Similarly, he explained that, in his experience, different yeasts have, at most, a negligible effect on the flavour of a whiskey. 'We've experimented with yeast, and the difference was zero,' he said.
The launch took place at Casita 2 on Broadway Market, whose owner, Will Foster, has taken on brand ambassador duties for Koval.
Koval has joined the fast-growing portfolio of relatively new UK distributor Identity Drinks Brands, joining brands like Plantation and Regal Rogue vermouth. Expect the range to be available within the next few weeks.