Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart is multi-dimensional. Birnecker Hart is an author, former professor of German Jewish Cultural Studies, fluent speaker of German and French, and was once a lobbyist at the United Nations. But these days, Birnecker Hart is pursuing a decidedly nonpartisan career: with her husband, she is a partner in Chicago’s boutique Koval Distillery.
Koval is a craft distillery—a grain-to-bottle maker of spirits including gin, vodka, brandy, liquors of all flavors, and its signature whiskeys. In opening Koval, Birnecker Hart sought a balance of new technologies and old-world techniques. Her husband’s knowledge of the art of distilling goes back three generations. Yet, Koval boasts the most technologically advanced still in the world; for example, distillers get alerts on their smartphones when temperatures fluctuate.
What’s your creative process?
My creative process revolves around late-night conversations with my husband: our master distiller, and my partner in business and life. The kids are asleep and we are able to really focus on our plans and ideas. We then divide tasks: he follows up with everything production-related and I deal with the branding, marketing, sales and distribution.
We are lucky to have a lot of family experience behind us. [Husband] Robert comes from three generations of distillers. We know a lot about what works and what doesn’t with regard to distilling and mashing. And we are also very clear on our style with regard to the product we want to create. We consistently go for a clean, bright, grain-forward whiskey; we achieve this kind of clean spirit across the board, with gin or liqueurs as well. That is part of our signature style and whatever we want to create has to be within that framework.
I would be very curious to see the creative process of some of the larger liquor companies. Does their conversation begin in a conference room, or does it start with a particular grain they want to explore, a distilling approach, flavorings? Who is involved in making these decisions?
I doubt that they come up with their ideas in bed, late at night, with their spouse. But I could be wrong. (Brenda Bergen)