Koval Distillery: Mixing whiskey and tours in Ravenswood

Yes, Tip C is finally getting tipsy (or at least slightly buzzed).

Koval Spirits

Koval Spirits: Lion’s Pride Whiskey (left), Koval Liqueurs (right)

Last Saturday, I scheduled a tour with some friends at Koval Distillery, located at 5121 N. Ravenswood Ave. (Tip: Don’t forget to bring your driver’s license or state ID to prove you’re of drinking age. Otherwise, staff won’t allow you into the facility!). Koval is a family-operated, craft distillery founded by Robert and Sonat Birnecker. Robert brought his family’s distilling techniques from Austria and continued the tradition in our fair city. Koval’s business model is the first of its kind in Chicago since Prohibition. And now, we get the privilege to sample its whiskey without breaking the law.

Koval Office Manager Jason Liechty led our tour. Jason guided us through the distillery’s history, whiskey-making process, and Koval product line. (Tip: Be sure to wear comfy shoes! It’s a 1 ½ to 2 hour tour of the distillery, which can be harsh on the feet.). And of course there were tastings of Koval spirits. However, don’t expect to get drunk unless you’re a total lightweight. Jason informed us that alcohol producers are only allowed to serve each patron up to 2 ounces of liquor during tours. Needless to say, we were given small servings of the 9 spirits we tasted – 3 from the White Whiskey line, 3 from the Lion’s Pride Whiskey line, and 3 liqueurs. Koval has 30 spirits, so it was nice that they offered us a good portion of their products.

Distillery Machines

Distillery Machines: Column Still (left), Pot Still (right)

Koval makes a pure artisan product – single barrel whiskey made from rye, wheat, oat, millet, or spelt. Jason handed us jars of each ingredient in its purest form, which is why Koval is certified organic and kosher. Aside from whiskey, Koval creates truly unique liqueurs and specialty spirits. For instance, Koval used Metropolitan Brewery’s Dynamo Copper Lager to concoct Bierbrand, a German beer schnapps. Koval also has limited edition spirits, such as its Paw Paw Liqueur and Asian Pear Liqueur. (Tip: Pick up those limited edition liqueurs in case Koval doesn’t produce them again. It may be your last chance!).

At the end of the tour, you can purchase any Koval spirit, as well as t-shirts, glassware, and much more. (Tip: Sign up for Koval’s newsletter and volunteer list. Volunteers at Koval receive a discount on products!).

Tours take place every Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday at 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m., and 5:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 7:00 p.m. (Tip: Buy a Drink Deck before scheduling. You get a complimentary tour of Koval for two and 15% off in-distillery purchase!).

Be a locavore and sip some Koval whiskey soon…cheers!

Koval Whiskey Barrels

Koval Whiskey Barrels

Other tips about the area:

  • Interested in brewery tours? Then schedule one with Metropolitan Brewery (Koval’s next door neighbor). Like Koval, Metropolitan is a Chicago brand with an emphasis on quality. Tours with Metropolitan are few and far between, but don’t be discouraged. Metropolitan beer is sold and served at various stores, restaurants and bars in Chicago.

Chicago Cupcake Tours: Explore the Gold Coast one cupcake at a time

New York and Los Angeles, you may have invaded our city with your cupcakeries, but Chicago cupcakes are still the best in the world! And Chicago Cupcake Tours proves just that.

Swirlz Cupcakes (left), More Cupcakes (right)

Swirlz Cupcakes (left), More Cupcakes (right)

Last Thursday, I attended its cupcake tour in the Gold Coast. Our tour group was asked to promptly meet at 4:45 p.m. inside the Bloomingdale’s Building at 900 N. Michigan Ave. This was the perfect meeting place, because it gave us time to do a little window-shopping and hydrate before the tour. (Tip: Buy a bottled water at King Café Gourmet & Go before you start sampling cupcakes. Trust me, you’ll need it!).

Our tour guide Kerri Morrison was easy to spot by the entrance of the mall with her bright green flag and warm smile. Next to Kerri was the founder of Chicago Cupcake Tours, Valerie Beck, who greeted each of us as soon as we checked in. To me, it was nice meeting a Chicago business owner who cared about local businesses. Valerie could have easily added Sprinkles Cupcakes (based in Los Angeles) since it’s along the tour path, but she consciously chose cupcakeries from Chicago.

At the start of the tour, Kerri gave us a rundown of our itinerary: 2-hour walking tour, 4 locations, and lots of cupcakes! (Tip: You’ll be outdoors for a good amount of time, so check the weather forecast in case you need a coat or umbrella. The tour will carry on rain or shine!). Kerri also took the time to remember all of our names, which was impressive considering there were at least 12 people in our group. It turns out most of the guides with Chicago Cupcake Tours are actors like Kerri, so they’re good at memorization and putting on a dynamic performance.

Once introductions were over, our cupcake journey began…

Sarah’s Pastries & Candies (70 E. Oak St.) is a patisserie owned by Chicago native and Northwestern graduate Sarah Levy. As the name of the shop implies, Sarah’s sells more than cupcakes. In fact, we were escorted to the back of Sarah’s kitchen where breads are baked and chocolate is tempered. Staff handed us samples of crispy chocolates to show what quality chocolate truly is – shiny and snaps when you bite through it. After the chocolate demonstration, the shop had individually wrapped Black & White cupcakes ready for us at the front counter. Sarah’s Black & White cupcake is similar to marble cake, but has a vanilla-chocolate ganache frosting on top. The cupcake is a little piece of heaven, both light and moist.

Swirlz Cupcakes (705 W. Belden Ave) is not located in the Gold Coast, so they set up a pop-up cupcakery at the information desk inside the Bloomingdale’s Building. Swirlz employee Jamie Finnan gave our group two offerings. First, we sampled a mini red velvet cupcake with a light cream cheese frosting, dipped in chocolate. We then tasted a mini strawberry-chocolate cupcake with Italian buttercream frosting and fresh strawberry preserves, which was created specifically for Chicago Cupcake Tours. Jamie also passed out Swirlz buttons and a voucher for one free Swirlz cupcake. Great incentives to get us to the Swirlz shop in Lincoln Park!

Hendrickx Belgian Bread Crafter (100 E Walton St.) was my favorite stop on the tour, because we got a cultural lesson with our cupcakes. The bakery is co-owned by Chef Renaud Hendrickx and Dominique Schewebach, who are both from Belgium. Dominique explained that bakeries in Belgium use simple ingredients in their baked goods. For instance, the country bread we sampled from Hendrickx contains flour, yeast, water, and salt. Simplicity is also key to making Belgian cupcakes, which are different from American cupcakes. Belgian cupcakes have less sugar and no frosting, but have delicious fillings, such as dark chocolate and marzipan.

More Cupcakes (1 E. Delaware Pl.) was our last stop on the tour. Unlike the other cupcakeries, More Cupcakes is like a cupcake gallery. The cupcakes are a work of art with their unique flavor profiles, like feta-cranberry and piña colada. On the tour, More Cupcakes gave everyone a double chocolate mini cupcake to eat at the shop and a full-size ‘More’ cupcake (similar to a Hostess cupcake) to take home. The Gold Coast may have a lot of high-price designer fashion, but More Cupcakes offers affordable designer cupcakes.

The Gold Coast Route with Chicago Cupcake Tours takes place every Thursday at 4:45 p.m. It may not be a practical time for workers, but it’s a perfect activity for vacationers and staycationers alike. (Tip: Book a cupcake tour for a bridal shower or bachelorette party, especially if the bride needs help choosing cake/cupcakes for the wedding!).

Watch this video to get a taste of Chicago Cupcake Tours…


Other tips about the area:

  • If you haven’t completely spoiled your appetite after the cupcake tour, walk down the street from More Cupcakes and step inside The Goddess and Grocer at Delaware Pl. and Wabash Ave. Grab a tasty salad, cup of soup, or light sandwich made with local products. (Tip: Get one of my favorite sandwiches in the city – California Dreaming!). This is also the perfect place for out-of-towners to pick up Chicago souvenirs for foodie friends, like chocolate bars from Vosges Haut-Chocolat and coffee from Intelligentsia (both originating from Chicago). If you prefer a relaxing meal, go to The Goddess and Grocer’s sister restaurant Feast. Sit back and enjoy a glass of wine with your dinner!