Prost! Tasting Echter Nordhäuser Doppelkorn and Korn Schnaps in a Traditional Germany Distillery
Think Germany, and you picture huge steins full of bier at Oktoberfest, right? But did you also know they have a long history of distilling grain? Here’s something new to add to your spirits travel and collections!
The city of Nordhausen in northeast Germany is situated on the Zorge river within the fertile region known as the Goldene Aue, or golden floodplain, at the southern edge of the beautiful Harz mountains. This floodplain has yielded a 500-year history of growing grain and distilling spirits, most notably their Nordhäuser doppelkorn and korn schnaps made from rye and malt. Following near total devastation during World War II, today Nordhausen is a thriving commerce center and known for its traditional distillery, Echter Nordhäuser.
The former East Germany isn’t on the radar yet of mainstream tourism despite Germany’s reunification in 1990 nearly 30 years ago. But foodie and boozie fans, now is the time to go! Germans, Europeans, and fans of so-called dark tourism are having all the fun, and Americans should take note. We recently visited friends who grew up in East Germany and now live in the Harz mountain region, who showed us some fascinating history — most of which we would never have found on our own. Thankfully, a day at this distillery in Nordhausen was on their list. It’s good to have friends in fun places!
So if you’re keen to taste the local drink of doppelkorn and schnaps at a traditional German distillery — or traditionsbrennerei — Nordhausen is the place to go, even if you don’t have German friends. Because they also give tours in English!
History of Nordhausen
At one time, this region actually grew tobacco along with grain. During the more recent history of World War II, Nordhausen Harz was an important hub for engineering and arms manufacturing because of its strategic rail location. This was largely supported by the nearby Mittlebau-Dora concentration camp and some 60,000 forced laborers who worked on arms like the V-2 rocket — some only for a week or two before they died of starvation or from the deplorable underground conditions they lived in. But following the Allied bombings in 1944, most of the city was devastated and nearly all of its historic buildings were destroyed. Nordhausen eventually fell within the Soviet zone of occupation and became part of East Germany. But even after Reunification of East and West Germany in 1990, the city was burdened by high inflation and rampant unemployment for years until economic initiatives began to take hold.
Echter Nordhäuser Distillery
In 1996, the former corn schnapps distillery Seidel, founded in 1857, was restored according to national heritage requirements, and opened as a museum of the once-thriving corn distilling trade. Today, art nouveau distillery Echter Nordhäuser is a small distillery in Seidel’s former location, producing high-quality spirits, and is open to the public and tourists from around the world. In these historic rooms of the center-city distillery, a tour includes seeing the distilling equipment as well as the fascinating historical artifacts of the early Nordhausen corn distillery. Ironically, one of the most interesting aspects of the tour is seeing one of the original copper stills that survived the destruction of WWII — only because it was painted over with gray enamel paint to avoid being detected, seized, and used for scrap metal. Equally compelling was seeing the time capsule they have behind glass, which was discovered during the property’s restoration. Like a frozen snapshot in time, it added a fascinating historical twist to the tour.
In the milling room, you’ll feel the rye in your hands and smell the unique aroma; and in the mash cellar, you’ll see the “molecule kit” which tracks the fermentation process. But the highlight of each tour comes at the very end when visitors have the chance to taste a variety of the spirits they produce, and take some home as souvenirs.
What is Doppelkorn?
Every region around the world has their own unique and traditional distillations: Russia has vodka and the Caribbean has rum. The Americas also have corn whiskey — we call it moonshine — and bourbon, cachaça, and tequila too. Whatever grows is what you ferment and distill. So given the soil, climate, and floodplain topography of Nordhausen where grain is plentiful, it makes sense that doppelkorn and korn alcohol is what they produce. It’s the German liquor.
Doppelkorn simply means double-distilled. German korn can be made from barley or wheat, but here at Echter Nordhäuser both the korn schnaps and doppelkorn are made from rye and malt only. Their Gold Edition is a true korn whiskey, aged in the barrel for three years. Korn differs from vodka in that it is distilled to lower alcoholic proofs with more of the rye taste in the finished spirit.
The real question is…how does korn taste? A little strong, but good! It’s strong as you might expect, but doesn’t burn going down, and has a faint scent of grain as it hits your nose before you taste, which I enjoyed!
Spirits of Echter Nordhäuser
Echter Nordhäuser Doppelkorn and Korn Schnaps
Echter Nordhäuser makes a variety of unique liqueurs but their most popular are the Korn and Doppelkorn, and they have been produced right here in Nordhausen since 1507. Connoisseurs appreciate the tangy and strong rye used in Echter Nordhäuser Korn, instead of wheat. Tasting it tastes similar to a bite of rye bread!
Echter Nordhäuser produces these three Korn distillations in accordance with Germany’s Purity law:
The Echter Nordhäuser Korn combines all the characteristics of Nordhausen’s 500 years of distilling, and is made from rye and malt only, as laid down by the Purity Law.
The Echter Nordhäuser Doppelkorn, or double-distilled rye schnapps is made from the purest rye and malt, and double-distilled in storage above oak wood lends it its characteristic taste.
Echter Nordhäuser Gold Edition is a special premium corn whiskey, partially aged in oak for three years.
Echter Nordhäuser Reiche Ernte (Rich Harvest)
In addition to their popular grain distillations, Echter Nordhäuser Reiche Ernte combines select fruit brandies and spirits with a mild Korn for a drink that’s around 30% ABV. Flavors such as Williams Pear, Hazelnut, Mirabelle, Apricot, Obstler and Raspberry can be enjoyed neat as a digestif or as a tall cocktail.
TIP: All the Echter Nordhäuser liqueurs are best served at room temperature, when their aromas and flavors are at their fullest and most intense!
Echter Nordhäuser's Fruit Liqueurs
Echter Nordhäuser fruit liqueurs are made from Echter Nordhäuser korn and fruit flavorings and have an ABV of 16-18%. These liqueurs were big sellers when we finished our tour and stepped into the Gift Shop. These beautiful bottles were flying off the shelves (it was October so maybe it was early holiday shopping!) and before I knew it, I had a handful of the thick glass stackable bottles ready to take home! Sadly, my husband reminded me of the added weight I just added to my light-weight packing promise, so back they went, except for the stocking stuffer-sized bottles I could easily wrap in scarves or socks to bring home.
They had all sorts of good flavors like Black Currant, Jostaberry (German for gooseberry), Quince, Raspberry, Currant, Peach and Sour Cherry. These would be delicious served in martinis or enjoyed on the rocks!
Echter Nordhäuser Eisvodka, Eiskorn, Gin
The distillery also produces several high-quality multiple distillations from rye. Their Echter Nordhäuser Eisvodka goes through four filtrations that lend a special purity and mild taste. The Eismint combines the freshness of mint with the purity of Echter Nordhäuser Korn. Echter Nordhäuser Eiskorn is an especially mild and clear Korn, due to its rye having been distilled and filtered multiple times. The Wildkräuter, made from an old, and secret recipe, is an herb liqueur made from more than 40 herbs and spices. They also do a fiery and tangy Ginger Liqueur, which was one of my favorites!
Whether you’re a fan of visiting distilleries, or are wondering what to buy in Germany to gift your in-laws and friends, stop by the Nordhausen distillery. No matter what flavor profile you like best, you’ll find your own favorite at Echter Nordhäuser. They give an interesting tour with some regional and national history thrown in, and it all ties back into the traditional distillery at Nordhausen. If you’re in the Harz, plan a visit!
If You Go
Echter Nordhäuser Traditionsbrennerei - Grimmelallee 11, 99734 Nordhausen
Open Tuesday - Sunday
Tours offered at 2pm Tuesday - Sunday
Adult Admission: 8 Euros includes tasting