People like to use the word “grains” when talking about the inputs to whiskey as if the word encompasses such a wide variety of cereal grains that listing them is just too hard. In reality, “grain” whiskeys are made almost entirely of commodity corn. Other grains included under this umbrella are wheat, barley (malted or unmalted), and rye. That’s about it. So, we must leave it to the pioneers in the craft whisky scene to experiment with some of the other more-than-50 food crop cereal grains in the world.
Koval distillery in Chicago is an undeniable pioneer in this space, with various whiskies for sale distilled from millet, oats, spelt, wheat, and rye. All of Koval’s spirits are single-barrel releases, and all are made from organic grains farmed in the American Midwest. Of note is that Koval prides itself on only using heart cuts in its distillation. I’m not sure that’s such a good thing… while the heads and tails in a distillation run definitely contain most of the off-flavors and undesirable distillation by-products, they also contain some of the most interesting ones. The art of distillation is (partially) in cutting just the right amount of heads and tails into the heart. Also, narrower cuts can sometimes needlessly increase the cost of distillation, and thus inflate the final price.
The Koval Millet whiskey is aged in 30-gallon new charred oak barrels (like bourbon distilleries, Koval sells all of its barrels after a single use). I was unable to find any information about the amount of time this whiskey spends in-barrel, so I would go ahead and assume it’s quite young. My tasting sample was from a Flaviar tasting box, and was filled from a bottle in October of 2015.
Nose: Spicy. Eucalyptus and pine resin (like young rye), flecked with mace, raspberry leaves, black tea, and lemon peel. Mild oak. Unusual, although it would be easy to dismiss this as young rye at first smell.
Palate: Medium bodied. Sweet on the tongue, with a lot of wood sugars and vegetal honey. More rye-like spice notes, including clove, cinnamon, and pine resin.
Finish: Medium-long. Marshmallow and cinnamon rolls. Reprise of the palate notes, which fade with a little mouth-drying mint/menthol.
With Water: A few drops of water increase the pine notes, and thins the flavors on the finish. I wouldn’t use water with this.
Overall: Reminds me of Tom’s Foolery batch 1, with heavy pine notes that are only partially offset by unique grain sweetness and spices. Well-made, but either this is what millet whiskey tastes like or it needs more time in barrel. With all of Koval’s craft chops and excellent transparency, I’d really like to see them publish the ages of their whiskies, as well as offer some more mature products. At least, the price is spot-on for an experimental young craft whiskey.