First, what is a liqueur? (Don’t worry, I’ll tell you all about my Koval experience in a bit.)

Have you ever tried liqueurs? Don’t confuse this with a standard spirit, known as liquor. Confusing, right? Technically, liqueurs fall into the category of liquors, but not all liquors are liqueurs. It’s a square-and-rectangle kind of thing. Both are distilled spirits, and some liquors are sweet, but liqueurs are a little more special.

Also known as cordials, liqueurs are flavored with oils, extracts, and natural ingredients like herbs or botanicals, in addition to being sweet. They have a history of medicinal use throughout the world, and they can be absolutely delicious. They’re used to accent and flavor drinks, not as the main adult ingredient.

That brings us to the main idea here: A ginger liqueur is a sweet, distilled spirit, deliciously infused with fresh, spicy ginger! My absolute favorite ginger liqueur is made by Koval distillery, right here in Chicago. Oh, I could go on and on!

Touring the Koval Distillery—a dream come true!In fact, maybe I will rave a little.

Koval Distillery’s ginger liqueur is just heavenly, and I’m not exaggerating. That’s why I chose it to make my delicious ginger cakes. If you’re going to go to the trouble of baking something fancy, you might as well splurge on the best ingredients.

By the way, don't miss out on my ginger cake recipe. It’s my first-ever exclusive feature in Peoria Magazine!

Mary at Koval Tasting

I love to learn more about my favorite ingredients, so when I realized Koval offers distillery tours, of course, I took the opportunity. 

Koval Distillery is an award-winning Chicago distillery with a focus on locally sourced organic ingredients. 

Before diving into my tour experience, let me tell you a little bit more about Koval itself. Founded by the dynamic duo, Drs. Sonat Birnecker Hart and Robert Birckener—yes, they are married—in 2008, Koval is an absolute gem of a distillery. They take a grain-to-bottle approach, using local, organic ingredients whenever possible, because they believe that the best spirits come from the best raw materials. I completely agree!

The name Koval means “blacksmith” and comes from Sonat and Robert’s heritage. Sonat’s great-grandfather earned the Yiddish nickname for being brave enough to “forge ahead” when he moved to the U.S. Robert’s grandfather was named Robert Schmid, which is the German equivalent of the same word. How sweet is that? I, for one, am all about honoring those family traditions.

If you have an extra few minutes, I highly recommend learning a little bit more about Koval’s grain-to-bottle method. It is truly awesome!

Koval Barrel
Mary Learning About Koval

What’s it like to tour the Koval Distillery?

When you tour the distillery, you also get to take part in a little tasting. My guide, Drake, was generous enough to let me have an extra taste… of every single liqueur that Koval offers (being a food blogger has its perks)! All I can say is that I’m going to be incorporating Koval flavors into a lot more of my cooking. They were absolutely delicious.

After sampling their award-winning selection of liqueurs (coffee, honey, chrysanthemum honey, rose hip, and, of course, ginger), I wasn’t sure I would make it through to the “official” tasting! I was absolutely in love. Their tour also highlighted the history of the Ravenswood neighborhood and Koval’s commitment to using high-quality, locally sourced ingredients. Now that’s my kind of distillery.

Try some of my Koval recipes!

Thanks again to everyone at Koval!

August 01, 2023 — Mary DiSomma