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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Koval's Lion's Pride Organic Dark Millet and Organic Dark Rye Whiskies

If you've been wondering where the "R" in Whiskyfun's "Stanahan's" review went, I stole it.

Florin gave me substantial samples of two whiskies (thank you!!!), both of which I labelled and referred to as "Korval" for almost four months.  It was when I started googling Korval that I realized there is no Korval distillery.  There's a Koval distillery, located in Chicago -- in the actual city, near Ravenswood and Lincoln Square -- and run by the Birnbeckers, an Austrian family with distillers in their lineage.  Koval has made a number of whiskies using grains that are often grown in America but are rarely distilled.

Until recently their main range was called Lion's Pride (named after their son, Lion) and it contained a number of organic whiskies. Very recently, the "Lion's Pride" title was discarded and the entire line's bottling design redone.  The "organic" designation is no longer on the front label though the company says they use only organic grains.

The two whiskies I'm reviewing here are the Lion's Pride editions of the Organic Dark Millet and Organic Dark rye.

Distillery: Koval
Region: Chicago, IL, USA
Grain: Millet (100%)
Age: less than two years old
Maturation: 30 gallon new American oak barrels with level-four char
Alcohol by volume: 40%

The color is very light gold.  Not much on the nose at the start.  First, some turpentine (a la Cutty Sark) floats up.  Then notebook paper, grain grist, paint, rice wine vinegar, and yeast.  Hints of vanilla, sugar, and white pasta follow.  The palate is reminiscent of very young low-oak Scotch grain whisky. It's, er, grainy. Some vanilla and sugar. A hint of vinegar. Lots of notebook paper (again), but this time it's covered in Nutrasweet.  A peppery nip gives it some character.  That pepperish peep continues into the finish, followed by paper and a slight sweetness. And not a lack of what I'd guess is acetate.

Distillery: Koval
Region: Chicago, IL, USA
Grain: Rye (100%)
Age: less than two years old
Maturation: 30 gallon new American oak barrels with level-four char
Barrel #: 198
Alcohol by volume: 40%

The color is also a very light gold.  The nose is bigger than the millet's, though it starts on varnish.  Then there's some raw green herbs and old shoe leather.  Peppercorns and caulk.  A hint of brown sugar.  Eventually it opens up and smells like a deli pickle plate.  And, per my wife, it smells like whiteboard markers. The palate has a case of The Turps with some pepper and tartness mixed in. A little pickle brine, maybe some fennel and horseradish.  Some sweetness builds at the end.  It's all very quiet, like a watered-down white rye.  The finish has the pepper and brine, too, along with pencil eraser.  There's a cloying note that I've found in very young proto-whisk(e)y.

If those reviews aren't loud enough raves for you, let me just add that the filtered water from my fridge has a denser texture than these unfiltered whiskies.

Just to clarify, I do not know how to distill a spirit.  I've only flubbed around with trying to age stuff in tiny barrels.  I am aware that distillation is very difficult, especially without bringing any malted barley into the mix.  If making good spirit was easy, then entire whisky empires would never have been built.  And I want to cheer on the small businesses, as opposed to the empires.  But I can find very little that appeals to the nose or palate in these two whiskies.

They both feel significantly watered down and I wonder (as usual) how these would swing at much higher ABVs.  The millet whiskey is as light as a feather, which can sometimes be a good thing, but there's not much spirit character to it.  The rye is larger, but it's still the shyest rye I've ever tried.  It tastes and smells so young that even Corsair's unaged Wry Moon feels like its senior.  But even if it is young, where is all of its rye power?

As I mentioned, Koval's bottle and label design have been reworked, so perhaps the whisky has as well?  I don't know.

Here are other folks' reviews:
--Sour Mash Manifesto has positive things to say about these whiskies, but commenter "Sherman Owen" at the end of the comment section says much of what I think about the whiskies.
--Not many votes on whiskybase, but the small sample size loves the millet and hates the rye.
--My Annoying Opinions reviewed a sample of my sample and had an experience similar to mine.
--And Whisky Advocate, which rarely prints grades under 80, gave all of Koval's whiskies grades under 80.  (And Lew Bryson has sorta tried more American whiskies than most of us combined.)

Koval Lion's Pride Organic Dark Millet
Availability - The newer addition is much easier to find at specialty retailers
Pricing - $40-$50
Rating - 70

Koval Lion's Pride Organic Dark Rye
Availability - The newer addition is much easier to find at specialty retailers
Pricing - $40-$50
Rating - 72