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Grainger Everyday Heroes: Whiskey Distiller


Meet Mike Hoffman, a distillery manager at Koval Craft Whiskey Distillery. Koval is a grain to bottle distillery and mills all its own grain. Listen to Mike explain what it takes to make high-quality craft whiskey, from milling the grain to bottling and the many steps along the way.

My name is Mike Hoffman and I'm a distiller here at Koval. [Koval is] a craft whiskey distillery that makes whiskey, vodka and gin. We're a grain to bottle distillery so we mill all our own grain and go through the whole process to bottling right here. Right when we come in, we will start up our hammer mills and then load the grain into the hammer mills. We put the grain into our mash tank where it is heated and basically cooked. Enzymes are added to break down the starches and fermentable sugars.

This is where all the fermenters are. We have eight fermenters currently, but may be looking [into adding] more. Basically, they're just big stainless steel tubes where the mash is allowed to sit with an airlock, let off CO2 and not get contaminated by anything. Most of the fermentation is [complete within] the first three days or so, but we usually leave them in there about a week. Once you are through the fermentation process, you will have a low alcohol beer or wort. [Next] the distillation part of [the process takes] the lower alcohol percentage [mash] and distills the alcohol off to get a distillate that is of a higher alcohol percentage. This is the pot where we load the low alcohol percentage mash and then it's heated. When [the pot is heated], the alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than the water. It's just extracting the alcohol off and then condensing it.

Since our [spirit] is a hybrid, it comes to the columns where it travels up one column, down another and out another [column]. Every single spirit that comes out of a still is clear. The color you see in whiskey is from the barrel and a lot of the flavor as well. There are so many different temperature gauges and steam pressure [gauges] that if you're doing everything by hand you wouldn't get a consistent product. We try and control as many [of the variables] as possible with automation, while still not losing that personal touch of tasting everything.

Here is the bottling [operation]. [We hand bottle everything] which sometimes takes a very long time. We pull the whiskey from a barrel into one of these containers and cut it down with filtered water to bottling strength from barrel strength.

We're in tons of locations around the Chicagoland area. I think 30 states now, and seven countries. We're certainly trying to get our name out there and we've increased production so hopefully [our name is getting] out. I love this job. It's not easy and it's never the same. It's different every day, but it's fun.

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.