If you happen to live in the Midwest, you’re probably familiar with Koval Distillery, which in 2008 became Chicago’s first booze producer since Prohibition. But even if you’re from the heart of Big Ten country, you’re probably mostly familiar with the brand’s single-barrel whiskey expressions and their solid dry gin.
But every now and then, we come across one of their eight liqueurs—everything from coffee to walnut to caraway–packaged in slender, handsome-looking, batch-numbered 375ml bottles. And when we saw a bottle of their Rose Hip variety, we had to try it.
Uniquely, Koval begins with a white whiskey base (neutral grain alcohol is a more common starting point.) Organic rose hips–the fruit of certain rose plants–are steeped in that whiskey, which means an extra dose of flavor. This is savory stuff: as Koval says on its website, rose hips are commonly used in Europe for teas and soups.
Swirl this in the glass, and it’s a pale brownish-red, not unlike certain sherries. Come to think of it, the nose rings a bit sherry-ish, too, with a good bit of floral and funk. On the palate, the rose mixes with a vague cherry character and a slight bite from the white whiskey base and an off-dry sweetness—none of the overt sweetness of liqueurs like St. Germain here.
It was time to test this stuff out in a cocktail. I started with a simple 4:2:1 blend of DC’s Green Hat Gin, Cocchi Americano and the liqueur. It was perfectly pleasant, but a bit of a one-noter, as the bitter notes in the Cocchi overpowered any subtleties from the rose hips. So I dialed it back a bit, replacing the Cocchi with Dolin Dry Vermouth—basically a classic dry Martini laced with ¼ ounce of the Koval. Bingo. It added a beautiful floral complexity and an appealing color to the drink. I also had some luck using it in place of Luxardo in an Aviation. And it just screams to be added to champagne or sake.
– 20% ABV
CE Rating: ★★★