Koval Amburana Finished Rye

Vem brilhar mais
Ser uma estrela sobre o sol
Estrelar mais
Ser mais brilhante do que o sol
Se mostrar mais
Ser Deus no céu, na terra eu
Encantar mais
Ser tudo por um dia

– Marcos Valle

There are a lot of jobs I have wanted when I was growing up. There are times when you see a trend happening in a marketplace and you just have to assume that this job exists. Maybe it isn’t a full-time job; maybe it’s a part-time hobby but some jobs seem so cool, like my next one:
Exotic Wood Dealer.

Unless, of course, you work in the country of origin for said wood, which would just make you a “Wood Dealer.”

You know this job exists. It must! Some lucky persons out there have the job of dealing second-hand barrels of wood to the American whiskey makers who are desperate nowadays to finish young whiskey in order to stand out in the marketplace.

Last year it seemed Mizunara was all the rage, and we saw whiskies come from some big names with a wide range of price tags. The Japanese wood, known for it’s eye-popping ages, came out in some very expensive and very modestly priced products.

Today we’ll be talking about a different type of wood. I have had the chance to try a Rare Character rye finished in this wood about a month ago. That expression was selected by one David Jennings of Rare Bird fame. David raved about it, and he isn’t one prone to hyperbole. Frank also reviewed a Starlight expression that used this wood for finishing here: Starlight Cigar Batch

The wood I am talking about is Amburana. It is one of a variety of woods from Brazil used to aged Cachaca. John from Malt called Cachaca an “older sibling to rum” but has not tried Chachaca aged in this specific wood. That review can be found here: Maracatu Cachaca

The Rare Bird selected Rare Character and the Starlight Expression retail for more than $90 which, is way past my comfort level for exploring. What can I say? I am a cheap date and a bargain adventurer. This is where my relationship with my local store pays dividends.

Discussing some of the whiskies I had gotten to try during a trip to Louisville the store manager – who is not a bourbon drinker – mentions that Amburana is in a rye that just came out.

I closed my eyes and waited to hear the name and price, ready to be disappointed and underwhelmed…

“It’s Koval Rye and it’s 60 bucks.”

Wait? A whiskey from the hometown team that is just north of my mark in the sand of $50?
For those unfamiliar with Koval let me steal a blurb from their website:

“Founded in 2008 by husband-and-wife team, Dr. Robert Birnecker and Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart, KOVAL began as the first distiller to open in Chicago since the mid 1800’s.”

Indeed, they have been around the Chicago area for quite a while, and they are primarily known for whiskies made from millet and oat… not exactly the type of stuff the current market is clamoring for. Their four-grain whiskey and bourbon don’t garner much national attention, but are well made.

It has been quite a while since I started my whiskey journey, and since I have had a reason to try or buy anything from them, and this was a welcome sign to do so. It is always fun to support a local company while also getting to explore something from the southern part of this hemisphere.

As I sit down to enjoy this one, I think about finished whiskey and how strong the current marketplace is. I was one of the earliest to advocate for this category being worthy of people’s attention. I remember when the feeling was that finished whiskey was only made to hide undrinkable whiskey. Instead of dumping the over-aged and over-oaked, you could just finish it in rum! If it was too young, just finish it in oak again! There would be no whiskey lost and no hit to the P&L ever again!

Nowadays we have good whiskey getting finished by great barrels. A good example is this bottle here: an exotic wood that is gaining popularity. A well-made rye whiskey from a reputable distillery. I have long said that Cognac finished bourbon was my weakness. Cognac, it seems, is a cheat code for me. It makes young abrasive whiskey drinkable. It makes wheated bourbon reach new heights that make you wonder if everything should be finished in it.
Can this contender from Brazil take over Cognac’s spot in my heart as the best cask to finish whiskey in? Let’s see.

Manor Care Koval Amburana Barrel Finished Rye – Review

100 Proof (50% ABV). $59.99

Color: Light orange sunrise.

On the nose: Auntie Anne’s pretzels dipped in that white stuff from Cinnabon? I honestly haven’t had either in a very long time, but it smells like I walked between the two at a mall or airport terminal.

In the mouth: Amburana is a distinct flavor. In all my encounters it presents itself the same. The cinnamon is dull, but wants to be hot, almost like an older red hot fighting with the sweetness of a Swedish fish. Maybe my Halloween candy stash is influencing me here. The rye is here with baking spices towards the back and a wet wood. Almost tasting a freshly wrapped cigar here. It’s one of those times that the taste invokes a smell and you can picture the cigar leaves wrapping tobacco. The light candy finish surges one last time and the prickly spice tickles your tongue.


I wonder if this is more a win for Amburana than Koval. No disrespect to Koval, but it seems Amburana is cementing itself as the next “it” finish. Still, the folks at Koval should be applauded for taking the chance on this wood and coming out with a very nice and fun whiskey. I also would happily put this expression up against the others mentioned.

Score: 6/10


Born and raised in Chicago Matt spent the last decade hunting the unattainable only to find the beauty in the everyday affordable Bourbons you can readily find. An avid shoe collector whose early 90’s reissue of Jordan III’s disintegrated in storage; he believes shoes should be worn and whiskey consumed not stored. Whiskey elitists can keep it moving, spirits are a journey for everyone. Whether it’s the first sip of the night or another addition to their top-shelf at home.

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