The Iconic Spirits Blog

Koval Distillery

September 11, 2013

Tags: koval distillery, robert and sonat birnecker

In Yiddish, the word Koval means blacksmith, but it has another connotation---that of a black sheep, a person who strays outside boundaries and sometimes does the unconventional. Robert and Sonat Birnecker, the husband and wife team who run Koval Distillery, chose the name because it reminded them of their ancestors. Sonat’s great-grandfather emigrated to Chicago from Vienna soon after the turn of the 20th century; Robert learned the art of distilling from his Austrian grandfather, Robert Schmid (Schmid means “smith” in German). Thus, Koval seemed like the perfect name for the distillery the Birneckers founded in 2008.

On the face of it, it seemed an unlikely venture for the couple. Sonat, with degrees from Oxford and the University of London, was teaching at a university in Baltimore. Robert was the Deputy Press Secretary at the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Of course, he came from a family with a century of background in spirits, and also held certificates from Austria’s leading university program in distilling technology, but the spirits business seemed to be an unreachable continent away. Then Sonat’s mother gave them an article on Tuthilltown Spirits and the phenomenon of the exploding American craft distilling industry, and it sparked their imaginations. (more…)