The “craft” whiskey movement, while littered with a lot of sub-par products, is also one of the biggest reasons why the United States is the most exciting whiskey industry in the country. It’s amazing what some of these distilleries are doing.
Recently I’ve reviewed products and received samples from about 25 micro/craft distillers. I have to be honest – some of them are simply not good at all. But on the other hand, the stuff that is good really stands out. I’ll be talking about some of those in the coming weeks and months.
Today, let’s take a closer look at one of the distilleries doing some great work – Koval, based in Chicago, Illinois. Koval is owned and operated by husband and wife team, Sonat and Robert Birnecker. Robert, master distiller, is from Austria, and has built a reputation on utilizing some interesting grains for Koval’s whiskey. After turning some heads with the distillery’s un-aged and light whiskeys, Koval set out to create some aged products named after the couple’s son, Lion. The result is Lion’s Pride Whiskey, with both a Dark and Light version of each grain.
Below I have reviewed 4 of the 5 “dark” whiskeys. They are all aged under 2 years in new oak and distilled from single grains. Koval uses enzymes rather than barley for fermentation. The result is a very grain forward character to the whiskey.
To me, these whiskeys almost fit into their own category. They are lighter in style and body, really clean and bright, and less oak-forward. While they do taste young, all of the usual “funk” and rough edges that younger whiskeys typically have are not present here. Koval credits that fact to focusing on capturing only the heart cuts of the distillate, preferring to remove as much of the heavy flavors (which can bring that funk) with them. There’s more waste, but it results in a flavor profile that Koval prefers over the heavier bodied American Whiskeys.
Lion’s Pride Dark Millet Whiskey, 40% abv/80 Proof, $50.00
Tasting Notes: The nose consists of fresh, ripe fruit (green apple, plum, and peach), bright spices (ginger and anise), and caramelized nuts. The palate begins sweetly (brown sugar and canned fruit) before barrel, wood spices, and licorice dry things up on through to a moderately spicy finish. Millet is a grain I dare say few distillers, if any, work with today. It’s an eye opener and very distinctive.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.4 (Very Good/Excellent)
Lion’s Pride Dark Oat Whiskey, 40% abv/80 Proof, $50.00
Tasting Notes: I have been accused of having a sweet tooth before. Guilty as charged! This Dark Oat Whiskey is a confectionary wonder. The distillate has a distinctive banana aroma. It comes across as banana cream, vanilla fudge, and brown sugar syrup on the nose. The flavors on the palate are sweet as well with banana bread, oatmeal, and taffy balanced by cracker dryness, and black pepper. The finish is clean, sweet, and light. Superb stuff and my favorite in the lineup.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.8 (Superb/Outstanding)
Lion’s Pride Dark Wheat Whiskey, 40% abv/80 Proof, $50.00
Tasting Notes: The other grains seemingly have so much more depth and character. The wheat without a supporting cast struggles to keep up. The nose has notes of toffee, juicy fruit gum, and graham cracker. The flavors are soft and sweet with vanilla custard, sticky caramel, and a welcomed hot ginger bite as it leads to the finish, which is mildly peppered with cinnamon. A solid effort, but certainly the weakest of the four by a good margin.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.6 (Good/Solid)
Lion’s Pride Dark Rye Whiskey, 40% abv/80 Proof, $50.00
Tasting Notes: This one is perhaps the most grain forward of the lineup. This is rye in all it’s glory: evergreen, eucalyptus, and peppery rye grain dominate a nose that comes across quite fresh and lively. There’s a sweet, fruity underbelly at play on the nose as well. Vanilla infused honey makes an appearance early on the palate before being overcome by a rush of spices in the form of cinnamon, anise, and peppermint.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.2 (Very Good/Excellent)