If you are like many people I know, as the leaves start to change and sweaters emerge from summer hibernation, your thoughts turn to beer. These seasonal beers are gone by the time you get your chairs to hold your shoveled out parking space, but their limited nature is part of the draw. While the largest fair in the world is the driving force and inspiration for many fall seasonal beer varieties, there is no main event for the promotion of seasonal distilled spirits. While seasonal hard liquor maintains a lower profile, it is nevertheless a niche worth exploring.
At Koval Distillery, the seasonal spirits we make are in conjunction with local farms, including Oriana’s Oriental Orchard and King’s Hill Farm, and have often been the result of a trip to the farmers market. Working with local farmers is certainly becoming a mutually beneficial trend. In fact, there are farmer organizations specifically contacting craft distillers in hopes of growing for them, such as the Midwest Organic Farmers Cooperative. It is because of these farmers that craft distillers often become aware of unique produce worthy of seasonal and limited batch products, such as Oriana’s young walnuts or King’s Hill Farms sunchokes. Finding raw materials for seasonal and unique spirits is becoming easier, but selling the finished product comes with its own challenges.
There is an entire culture surrounding Oktoberfest beers, and in turn, a mature supply and demand for them; spirits distributors however, are not always interested in giving a lot of attention to a product that is available for a limited amount of time. To get a seasonal spirit into bars and restaurants a distributor has to invest a lot of energy above what is allotted for their overall portfolio. Thus, seasonal spirits tend to end up in retail venues where they can be sold in bulk as opposed to bottle sales to individual on premise accounts. From the manufacture’s perspective, whenever there are limited quantities, it is better to give the consumer a chance to try it as opposed to letting the product all go straight to retail, where it might sit on the shelf. Thus, it is essential to publicize the release of limited edition spirits as much as possible, both to the media as well as to on-premise (restaurant and bars) directly. This way the product release can be spread widely across the city. Yet this is not enough to instill an understanding among consumers that there are many seasonal spirits available and worth seeking out.
This year, local craft distilleries have come together to try to increase awareness of micro-distilling in general, and many of our permanent as well as seasonal products at the first annual Craft Spirit Week (lederhosen optional) starting Oct. 1. It is our hope that with a festival of our own, in conjunction with the Independent Spirits Expo on Oct. 3, we will be able to introduce more people to craft spirits and as well as many of our autumn seasonal gems.
Whether beer or spirits, there is a special nature to things made well in limited quantities; one that reminds me of a classic Austrian anecdote by Friedrich Torberg concerning Tante Jolesch’s famous Krautfleckerl (a cabbage and noodle dish). Jolesch’s family had been trying to get the recipe for her Krautfleckerl for as long as they had been traveling far and wide to her home to eat it. As they gathered around her bed as she lay one foot in the next world, one of her relatives pushed her beloved grand niece forward to beg for the recipe, “Tante, you cannot die without telling us why your Krautfleckerl taste so good?” Tante Jolesch sat up in bed, and said, “I never made enough” smiled and passed away.
I’ll raise my glass of seasonal libation and toast to that!
Sonat, a Chicago native, is a former professor who gave up academia to start Koval Distillery with her husband. She has spearheaded product development, distribution, and the rearing of the company’s future - two sons.