Whiskey Name: Koval bourbon
Whiskey Type: Millet recipe bourbon whiskey
Release Date: General release
Price: £40 gets you 50cl
Age: Not known
Mashbill: 51% corn, 49% millet
Introduction/Background: From the first new distillery in Chicago since the mid-1800s, here we have another craft whiskey with an unusual choice of secondary grain. More typically seen in Africa and Asia, millet isn’t a grain I’ve encountered in a whiskey other than Koval.
I recently attended a Koval tasting at the excellent Thirsty Bear in Reading. Annoyingly I turned up late, which meant that I didn’t have as much time as I’d like to ask Koval’s excellent brand ambassador Erica more questions about what millet brought to a whiskey. (Although she very kindly stayed a little longer than planned to take me through the range.)
In addition to their bourbon, Koval do a straight Millet whiskey, a 100% rye, an oat whiskey and a four grain. Interestingly, their policy is to bottle every whiskey they make as a single barrel expression. Now I’m not sure how I feel about this. Single barrel policies are all very well when you’re the size of a Blantons or a Four Roses, with sufficient aged stock to ensure that your single barrel range at least works from an established and recognisable style. A young craft distillery like Koval simply isn’t able to do this. Which on the one hand means a potentially exciting discovery every time you open a new bottle.
On the other hand, it means that potential fans can’t fix on a particular distillery signature; a recognisable ‘Koval trait.’ It also means vast variables when it comes to flavour and quality, and potentially greater risk involved in buying a bottle. I’ve also always held a slightly greater inherent respect for batches than single barrels. There’s unbelievable skill involved in blending whiskey, well beyond that involved in barrel selection. Let me put it this way: with a few whiskeys in front of me I could tell you which one I like best, and why. What I couldn’t do is tell you how to make something of them greater than the sum of its parts.
Anyhow, that’s a slightly long preamble. Let’s see how this particular Koval works out.
Appearance: Light for a bourbon. Burnished gold.
Nose: An intriguing blend of the sweet and the savoury that somehow manifests itself as roasted parsnip. A little sugary honeypuff note behind that, and a splash of tropical fruit. Apricot? A light, delicate aroma that’s rather pleasant, albeit well removed from ‘typical’ bourbon.
Mouth: A little more typicity on the initial palate. Upfront pepper – almost jalepeño at first. That quickly melts into accentuated sweetness; light caramel and floral honey on toast. Seriously clean, and as delicate as the nose.
Finish: Fairly short but sweet, with a mildly minty lift.
Value for Money: I’d pay £40 for a bottle from this particular barrel.
Summary: I’ve had hits and misses with Koval; this one is a hit, but in a very unusual way. I’ve tried loads of different craft whiskeys in the last week or so. What I’ve learned from tasting so many in such proximity, is to ignore the voice in my head that tells me what classic bourbon tastes like. Craft bourbon at its best works by being a riff on bourbon, albeit using broadly the same ingredients. What millet brought to this whiskey I couldn’t tell you; and yes, it’s a lot lighter and more delicate than something traditional from Kentucky or MGPI might be. But if, like me, you’re a fan of good Lowland Scotch, then this Koval barrel really offers something you’ll enjoy. Irksomely I can’t tell you which barrel it was, and single barrels being what they are, it’s unlikely you could track it down if I could. Which is another irritating thing about single barrels I guess. They make for pretty unhelpful reviews! (Though hopefully you’ve enjoyed the read…)
Overall Verdict: A charming delicacy that would appeal to fans of lighter Scotch or Irish malts.
Words by WhiskyPilgrim