Live Podcast Recording: KOVAL Founder, Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart
Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart had a decision to make, settle down and continue a successful academic career or move into her parent’s house with her husband and young family to achieve their dream of starting their own business. Fast forward to 2008, when KOVAL was founded in Hart’s hometown, Chicago, and became the largest fully independent and woman-owned craft distillery in the United States.
Get to know Sonat, KOVAL’s Co-Founder and President, who is full of stories about forging her own path in this arena, like choosing to seed the distillery which is now internationally recognized, over putting a down payment on a home. Moderating the conversation is KOVAL’S other co-founder and master distiller (he’s also Sonat’s husband), Dr. Robert Birnecker.
As an added bonus, KOVAL will be on site offering samples.
Dr. Sonat Birnecker: After receiving an MSt from Oxford and a PhD from the University of London, Sonat Birnecker Hart spent over a decade teaching and lecturing in both the United States and Germany. In 2008, she gave up tenure in hopes of a different quality of life – one that would afford an opportunity for her to work with her husband, give up commuting, and return to the city she loved: Chicago. To achieve this goal, she and her husband, Master Distiller Robert Birnecker, founded one of the first urban craft distilleries in the US, KOVAL Distillery, where she has spearheaded much of the product development, distribution and marketing. She is also the co-founder of Kothe Distilling Technologies, a distillery startup consulting firm, also serving as a representative for many distillery equipment companies, including Germany’s leading pot still manufacturer, Kothe Destillationstechnik. She and her husband have taught and consulted for over 2500 people (in the last few years alone), mostly through the workshops they host for distilling hopefuls at their distillery in Chicago. KOVAL’s spirits have won gold medals on both sides of the Atlantic and their distribution reaches coast to coast, as well as internationally in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Japan, Canada, Australia and beyond.
Dr. Robert Birnecker: Robert is one of America’s top distilling experts, an internationally renowned consultant, and the creator of the most unique spirits in America. An Austrian native, Robert grew up helping his grandparents at their award-winning distillery and winery and later received numerous certificates from Austria’s leading university program for distilling technology, Höhere Bundeslehranstalt und Bundesamt für Wein- und Obstbau Klosterneuburg, including one for the sensory aspects of distilled spirits. He also honed his skills working with Europe’s foremost spirits expert, Dr. Klaus Hagmann, developing fermentation techniques for craft distilleries. Robert’s technical expertise and creativity have garnered KOVAL national and international spirits awards, and Whisky Magazine recently named KOVAL Distillery one of the top 100 distilleries in the world to visit. Not only has Robert taught distilling techniques to over 2500 people in the last 5 years in his own workshops, he is also a distilling instructor at the Siebel Institute in Chicago. Robert has also helped set up over 90 craft distilleries in the US and Canada. Before focusing on distilling, Robert was the Deputy Press Secretary for the Austrian Embassy in Washington, DC. His decision to distill was born out of his love of traditional crafts and the pride of a small family business, both of which exemplify the real American dream.
Checking In is a live interview series hosted by the Chicago Athletic Association hotel. It features discussions with innovators who shape how we consider contemporary art and culture. Now moving well into its second century of existence, the Chicago Athletic Association hotel remains intent on capturing stories from those who write today’s narrative – because it’s never too late to start preserving history. The Checking In series is recorded in front of a live public audience, complimentary, and open to all. Find all past recordings here.