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Koval Distillery Cocktail Classes Pours It On

By David Byrnes | February 24, 2015 5:26am

RAVENSWOOD — At Koval Distillery in Ravenswood, the mission includes not just making the spirits — but how to use them.

Koval, which former academicians Robert and Sonat Birnecker founded in 2008, specializes in craft spirits and liqueurs, especially bourbon whiskeys. And in an attempt to do for whiskey what craft brewing has for beer, the company has decided to start offering cocktail classes extolling their history and virtues.

“It’s a way to engage the general audience in a new way,” says Becky Schultz, Koval’s public relations director. “To get them involved with our space and our products, and do something fun … to offer the community a new way into Koval."

The classes cost $30 each, and most feature some theme beyond simple drink recipes. One class may focus on the use of unexpected ingredients in drinks — like honey or salt for example — while another centers on the history of cocktails during Prohibition.

The classes, says Schultz, are for people of all skill levels. Though pros occasionally wander in looking for ways to expand their horizons, “most are just beginners who like to drink, and want to learn more about whiskey,” she said.

All are taught by Koval distillery personnel, many of whom come from a bartending/mixology background.

Alex Diimig, Koval’s self-proclaimed “Booze Sherpa,” teaches the Prohibition-era class, along with one on the history of bourbon and gin. Though Nebraska-born, he’s no stranger to big city alcohol culture. Before he got his job with Koval he was a successful bartender in Omaha.

I went into craft cocktailing" after running a bar chain, he said. “Went down to Tales of the Cocktail [a craft cocktail event] in New Orleans this past summer. I met most of the crew form Koval there.

Diimig’s actual title is market manager, which he describes as “just really good at speaking to a crowd.” But as a Booze Sherpa, he guides pupils through the ins and outs of craft liquor.

At a recent event held by Koval for other innovators in the alcohol business, he was busy pouring drinks for curious attendees, explaining how Koval tries to stand out in a world of Jamesons and Jack Daniels.

"We are all organic … We get our grains from a Midwest farmers bloc,” he said. "Our bourbon is made with local corn and millet. No one gets millet! There are two millet whiskeys in the country and we make both of them.

That’s something else that might make these classes fun for wannabe mixers — all the alcohol used in the classes is made not more than a mile away. It comes from Koval’s main production at 5121 N. Ravenswood Ave., a room full of industrial stills large enough to put your babcia’s bathtub gin to shame.

The fermented grains — which include corn, millet and barley — come from Midwestern farmers. Each cocktail poured is a true product of our beloved flyover country.

Also available at the neighborhood distillery are $10 tours of the Ravenswood location every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, and they all feature tastings.

The truly dedicated can also sign up for a $75 “whiskey workshop” taught by Koval founder Robert Birnecker, which covers the more intricate details of making craft spirits.

Fore more information about the cocktail classes click here.

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