Illinois COVID-19 Manufacturing Heroes – KOVAL Distillery

Posted by Simone Erskine on May 1, 2020 10:09:37 AM

KOVAL barrels 3

Known for their organic and kosher whiskey, gin, specialty spirits, and for being Chicago’s first distillery since prohibition era, KOVAL Distillery is one of many manufacturers who shifted operations to do their part in battling the current health crisis. Prior to COVID-19, federal laws prohibited distilleries like KOVAL from producing alcohol not meant for consumption. Given the dire situation today, the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) temporarily lifted those regulations to allow companies to start producing hand sanitizer.

As COVID-19 continued to upend lives and with the newly lifted restrictions on production from the TTB, KOVAL quickly transitioned into an alcohol-based sanitizer production facility – donating to first responders, essential businesses, and the community; all while pausing normal business operations. To pivot the way that they did, KOVAL had to transform into an entirely different business, and as one can imagine, that required administrative and operational changes. Administrative changes included developing and implementing new processes, job roles, distribution models, and essentially a new product in a new product category. They had to adjust operations to work with a new formula, define safety protocols for handling a caustic chemical like hydrogen peroxide, and even changed their bottling process to accommodate various container sizes for hand sanitizer. These changes, in addition to implementing safety policies to include full-time wear of PPE and practicing social distancing, has resulted in a new reality for KOVAL.

“Pivoting to meet the needs of our community during this health crisis has presented immense challenges. But whatever the rigor, it has also been the greatest honor and privilege for everyone at KOVAL to have a hand in making such a useful tool in the fight against this terrible pandemic.” Sonat Birnecker, President KOVAL

Prior to the health crisis, KOVAL operated on a business model that required them to only sell to one distributor per state. Now, their new business model comprises of two parts, one is dedicated to producing alcohol-based hand sanitizer in a direct-to-customer model – a totally new arena for KOVAL. The second part of the business is aimed at raising funds and organizing donations to provide hand sanitizer to the heroes on the frontline of this crisis.

KOVAL sanitizer production - Sonat Birnecker Hart-1KOVAL has been proactive in reaching out to individual suppliers for ingredients to produce hand sanitizer, but with high demand and time being of the essence, there had to be a more efficient way to meet suppliers. Already very familiar with IMEC’s capabilities, it was not long after Governor Pritzker launched the Essential Equipment Task Force that KOVAL got in touch with IMEC using the Supply Chain Preparedness Support service. With this service, suppliers and the support they can provide are vetted and shared with the Governor’s task force. The task force then matches suppliers with those in need.

As with any crisis, there is always opportunity beyond the shadows. For KOVAL, it is the beauty of seeing the unity and selflessness of businesses, organizations, and individuals fearlessly coming together for the greater good. KOVAL has been working with many different types of organizations and breweries across the state to maintain production and free distribution of hand sanitizer. These collaborations have resulted in:

  • Large and small organizations, and individuals donating financial contributions to KOVAL’s effort in raising funds to provide free sanitizer to first responders
  • Organizations delivering supplies where needed
  • Breweries donating beer for KOVAL to distill into hand sanitizer
    • Breweries that have donated include Begyle Brewing, Urban Renewal, Metropolitan Brewing, Great Central Brewing, Midwest Coast, Oak Park Brewing, Temperance Beer, Kinslahger, Goose Island, and Lakeshore Beverage.
    • Brewery contributions have resulted in an additional 500 gallons of sanitizer, appropriately dubbed “brewery sanitizer,” to be donated to Metropolitan Family Services, Clearbrook, TASC, El Valor, YMCA of Metro Chicago, and Sinai Health System later this week!
  • Bottling companies donating containers
  • Printing companies helping with labels

It is truly a community effort for KOVAL. Financial contributions have been extremely helpful, however, the critical need for sanitizer across Chicago is more than KOVAL can provide through those funds alone. To remedy that, they started a GoFundMe campaign that has already raised over $70,000 in donations from all over the world that will enable KOVAL to continue to make and donate hand sanitizer for COVID-19 frontline workers.  To date, KOVAL has been able to donate over 2000 gallons of sanitizer to those in need!


If you are a manufacturer who can supply any of the more than 20 critical supplies  identified by the Governor's Task Force,  please let us know so we can connect you with those in need!

Simone Erskine

Written by Simone Erskine

Topics: operations, supply chain, COVID-19, illinois manufacturing helpline, manufacturing heroes

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