State Bill Could Help Pave Way for New Tasting Room at Koval Distillery

By Hunter Clauss | Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Small craft distilleries like Lincoln Square-based Koval Distillery are one step closer to being able to sell their spirits on site. Earlier this month, lawmakers in Springfield approved a bill (SB3348) that would make it legal for distilleries to not only expand their retail operations but also provide tours and samples. The state Senate must now send the bill to Gov. Pat Quinn for his signature.

?Governor Quinn plans to review the legislation with his staff when the Senate sends the bill to him,? says Annie Thompson, a spokeswoman for the governor?s office.

Sonat Birnecker Hart is the president and co-founder of Koval Distillery, which she helps run with her husband, Robert Birnecker. She says she hopes Quinn will sign the bill because it will create an even playing field for distilleries to compete with breweries and wineries, which already can legally sell their products in-house.

?It only represents fairness in the sense that breweries are allowed to do it,? she says. ?Why wouldn?t Illinois want to support its distilleries??

Koval Distillery, located at 5121 N. Ravenswood Ave., is the first legal distillery in Chicago and the second in Illinois. (North Shore Distillery in Lake Bluff is the state?s first legal distillery.) Hart says because there aren?t that many distilleries in Illinois, the small industry wasn?t able to get the attention of state legislators until now. Hart says she and her husband met with Lincoln Square Ald. Eugene Schulter, state Rep. Greg Harris, and state Sen. Heather Steans last year to come up with a bill allowing distilleries to expand their retail operations.

Hart says if Quinn gives the bill the thumbs up, then she and her husband plan on opening a tasting room?assuming they are also able to acquire a liquor license from the city. She also says Koval will begin selling products on its website.

Hart says she?s happy the bill has gotten as far as it has, but she says the bill doesn?t allow for ?much growth.? That?s because it allows a distillery to manufacture up to 5,000 gallons of spirits a year, and Hart says that doesn?t allow very many ?growth opportunities.?

?We?re probably going to have to change it next year,? she says. ?It?s very limiting.?

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