12 June 2015

Whisky Insiders Interview - Dr Robert Birnecker

Koval Distillery

Master Distiller and CEO


How long have you been working in the whisky industry?
As I grew up working on my grandfather’s distillery and winery in Austria, it’s hard to stamp an exact date on when I began to work in the industry. That being said, my wife Sonat and I moved to Chicago and started distilling at Koval in 2008.

What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
Watching Koval grow into a global brand has definitely been the biggest career highlight for me. Seven years ago Sonat and I were bottling by hand at our first distillery as our oldest son sat in a pack-n-play and now we travel across the world to represent Koval and help set up distilleries through our consulting business, Kothe Distilling Technologies.

Can you remember your first dram, and indeed what it was?
I can’t remember my first dram but I do remember my first spirit experience with a rum and coke.

What does whisky mean to you?
To me, whisky is a mix of tradition with modern elements. Since I grew up learning traditional European distilling techniques, many of those elements are reflected in the whisky and spirits we make at Koval, but with other new methods as well, like only using the “heart cut” of the distillate and sourcing from regional organic grains. Whisky is the past and the future!

Where would you like to see yourself in five years’ time?
I’d like to see myself still at Koval Distillery in Chicago, but with a larger impact on more markets, and a few new products in our line as well.

What was your last dram?
The last spirit I had was my grandfather’s pear brandy.

Do you have a favourite whisky and food pairing combination?
A favourite of mine and a combination that works particularly well is bourbon and dark chocolate.

What’s your favourite time and place to enjoy a dram?
Usually while relaxing late in the evening, after a long day of work and once the kids are in bed.

What do you think is going to be the next big thing on the whisky horizon?
We have a few new distillates resting in barrels, so only time will tell (at least for the next big thing for Koval).

What’s the one dram you couldn’t live without?
There isn’t one dram I couldn’t live without, but I’d be very disappointed if the range of whiskies around the world became more limited. It’s great to see such a wide variety in the market.

Many thanks to Dr Robert Birnecker. Who will be the next Whisky Insider? Click back soon to find out!