In the past decade or so, the Ravenswood neighborhood has seen a number of new businesses pop up in former industrial spaces along the Metra right of way. It is now truly a destination in its own right with a range of artist studios, small tech firms, gyms, and perhaps most importantly, a number of places crafting spirits and fine brews.
This tour will take you to the Koval Distillery and Empirical Brewery. You can take the Metra train from the Ogilvie Transportation Center to the Ravenswood stop or you can take the "El" Brown Line to the Damen stop and walk over to start your exploration of the neighborhood. Let’s get started!
Opened in 2008 by Robert and Sonat Birnecker, the Koval Distillery (5121 North Ravenswood Avenue) has the distinction of being the first distillery to open in Chicago since Prohibition. Since that time, their distillery has grown to include a range of stellar whiskeys, liqueurs, and brandies.
Visitors are most welcome to take one of their one-hour tours, which are offered every Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. The cost is $10 and you can book tickets online in advance. As part of the tour, you’ll get to sample a variety of their products and you’ll learn about the differences between various whiskeys and small-batch spirits.
It’s worth noting that private tours can also be arranged and that they do also offer cocktail classes and whiskey workshops. It’s a great way to get acquainted with their products, the tours are quite lively, and there’s always time for questions along the way.
Located just a few blocks away from Koval at 1801 West Foster Avenue, Empirical Brewery is the perfect place to take the hop-forward fans in your life. Started by Sumit Mehta and Bill Hurley, Empirical opened its tap-room doors in the fall of 2015 and they have been tremendously successful attracting people looking to spend sometime getting to know about their rigorous brewing process.
Their rather elaborate and wonderful tap room can hold up to almost 100 people, so feel free to bring by a large group of friends. You can check out what’s on tap before you arrive and you will not want to miss their experimental IPA’s and other excellent beers. I’d recommend checking out their rye cream or scotch ales. You can also take home a growler or a few bottles for the road, if you so desire. Oh, and one more thing: the taproom is open and serving on Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from noon to 10pm and Thursday through Saturday from noon to midnight.
Folks looking for a formal tour won’t be disappointed, as they can breeze through the entire facility on Saturdays at 1PM and 2:30PM for $10. Along the way, they’ll get a beer sampling, a pub glass, and if they’re real lucky, they will also get to meet the cats that call the brewery home.
You’ve just seen two fine establishments in Ravenswood, but please remember that there’s much more to do close by. You’d do well to also stop by the Lillstreet Art Center (located in the area at 4401 North Ravenswood Avenue) to check out their art studios, cafe, and other programs.
Photos courtesy of Koval Distillery and Empirical Brewery.