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Master Distiller & Chief Executive Officer

One of America’s top distilling experts and an internationally renowned consultant, Dr. Robert Birnecker serves as the CEO and Master Distiller of KOVAL Distillery in Chicago. An Austrian native and third generation distiller, Robert's love for traditional craft spirits was born out of helping his grandparents at their award-winning distillery and winery. He went on to receive numerous certificates from Austria’s leading distilling program, Höhere Bundeslehranstalt und Bundesamt für Wein- und Obstbau Klosterneuburg, and further honed his skills alongside Europe’s foremost spirits expert, Dr. Klaus Hagmann.
Through his work with Kothe Distilling Technologies, Robert has educated over 3,500 people in the art of distilling and has helped to set up 190+ craft distilleries throughout the world. His technical expertise, creativity and business acumen have garnered over 100 international awards and accolades for KOVAL, and have led to his induction into the Disciples d’Escoffier and being named Illinois Business Person of the Year by the National Small Business Association. Before opening KOVAL with his wife Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart, Robert served as the Deputy Press Secretary for the Austrian Embassy in Washington, DC.


Prior to opening KOVAL Distillery, one of the largest independent and female-owned craft distilleries in the US, Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart spent over a decade as a full professor in both the United States and Germany. In 2008, she gave up tenure in hopes of a different quality of life; one that would afford an opportunity for her to work with her husband, give up commuting, and return to the city she loved: Chicago. As President of KOVAL, she has spearheaded product development, distribution, and marketing, turning her family business into an international presence with availability in over 55 export markets. In addition to her leadership at KOVAL, Sonat is also involved in a number of philanthropic and public service organizations, and serves on the board of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) of Chicago. She was recently named Illinois Business Person of the Year by the National Small Business Association, is a federally appointed member of the Illinois Export Council (DEC), and has been inducted into the prestigious Disciples d’Escoffier.
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