Meet Sonat Birnecker Hart, co-owner, president, and founder of Andersonville’s KOVAL Distillery (5121 N Ravenswood). KOVAL produces organic whiskey, liqueurs and specialty spirits, and was the first distillery to open in Chicago since the mid 1800s. Sonat and her husband/Master Distiller/co-owner, Robert Birnecker, pioneered the way for other small local distilleries to open all around North America and Europe. In this episode, Sonat shares with us her journey as a woman and a mother in the distillery industry.
” I love showing other women, that they can run businesses and be moms and have other past times and things they do for their community.”
– Sonat Birnecker Hart
Listen to Episode 5 with Sonat Birnecker Hart!
Here are some of Sonat’s references from Episode 5 that you may want to check out:
- Sonat and Robert choose to open KOVAL in its current location after former 47th Ward Alderman, Gene Schulter, helped them get their bearings in the neighborhood.
- When KOVAL started, there where only 30 major distilleries in the U.S. and now there are over 2,000!
- The name KOVAL honors both Robert’s family (his grandfather taught him how to distill) and Sonat’s great grandfather, who had pioneered the family’s move to Chicago from Vienna to start the K3 Battery Company. While there, he earned the nickname koval which in many Eastern European languages means “smith” or “blacksmith,” but in Yiddish, means to “forge ahead” or “forge something new.” The name KOVAL was perfect because it captured the spirit of what Sonat and Robert were trying to do in starting new careers, and paid homage to both sides of the family. Learn more about both sides of the family here.
- Sonat talks a lot about the whiskey distilling process and including only the “heart cuts” of the distillate, much like brandy distilling. Learn more about their “heart-cut only” method of distilling here.
“Why wouldn’t we give the same respect to… these grains a Brandy producer would to an apricot?”
-Sonat Birnecker Hart
- KOVAL provides a number of different classes and tours that are open to the public. To sign up, go here.
- Sonat was featured in the January and February edition of Sophisticated Living Chicago magazine as part of the 10 Chicagoan to Love and Follow in 2018 – check out her spread!
- Sonat and Robert are assisting the push towards mandating leave of work in America and were recently featured in the documentary, ZeroWeeks. Watch the preview and learn more about the powerful film here.
- In history, women have always been associated with brewing, which led to the idea of witches and potions – this connection with distilling can be traced back to the beginning of alcohol production. Sonat particularly mentions Maria the Jewess. Learn more about her here.
- Sonat’s sister owns a liquor design company, DANDO PROJECTS, and designed all of KOVAL’s bottles, and Sonat’s mother drew the artwork for the liquor bottles.
- Sonat was inspired by her aunt Susan, who was a free spirit and an artist. She promoted love and joy and acceptance and family, and enjoyed continuously campaigning to run for “Rresident of the World.” Sonat wanted to preserve Susan’s legacy by naming her new Brandy line “Susan for President.” The Chicago Tribune even threw in their endorsement! The brandy bottles are gorgeous! Check out the Peach Brandy.
- The Birnecker children have also been a part of the KOVAL experience. Sonat prides herself on having her children at work and thriving alongside her children with her business. Sonat says that her kids know more about business than a lot of adults she knows! She even gives a special call out to Gus Giordano Dance School (5230 N Clark).
- Want to make your own KOVAL cocktails? You’re in luck, because their website is FULL of awesome recipes!