Of a castle, the pope and lots of whisky.

Restaurant 12HUNDERT9, Burg Scharfenstein

Almost the pope was at the castle Scharfenstein. A circumstance that led to the impressive castle from the 13th century was saved from decay. Thus begins the story of the whisky experience world and the castle hotel Scharfenstein. We visit the castle and explore it from the vaulted cellar to the restaurant together with the hosts Lisa Bonda and Martin Henning.

The pope almost visited Scharfenstein Castle. And it was that which saved the impressive 13th century castle from its decline. It was also the beginning of the story of the Whisky World of Discovery and Scharfenstein Castle Hotel. On our visit to the castle we get to explore it from its vaulted cellar to the restaurant, together with hosts Lisa Bonda and Martin Henning.

For Bernd Ehbrecht, the cancelled papal visit presented an unexpected opportunity. The managing director of the Neunspringe brewery had a penchant for whisky and an idea he simply couldn’t let go of: he wanted to produce his own whisky. So why not do it at Scharfenstein Castle? (Link einfügen)After all, now it had been substantially renovated it required a concept for its future. Some time later, Bernd Ehbrecht opened the Nine Springs World of Whisky (Link einfügen). Since then he has not only produced successful single malts but also runs whisky tastings and distillery tours.

What would Benedict XVI say if he knew that it’s essentially because of him that whisky is now being distilled at Scharfenstein Castle?

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Whisky barrels smell fantastic and there’s nothing like running your fingers over one. You should give it a try some time. ©Mira Held, TTG

We find all this fascinating, so we’re very pleased to be getting a little tour from Lisa Bonda from the castle hotel. Walking between the aromatic barrels in which the whisky is aged for at least three years and a day is quite a sensual experience.

An actual tasting is even more appealing to the senses. I know very little about whisky, which makes sampling the individual varieties and pinpointing their differences even more exciting. The range produced has grown over time, and there are many variants to discover, such as whisky matured in sherry casks, with added peat, or made from rye. The ageing period and the specific grain used also affect the final taste.

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It’s never too early for a wee dram of whisky. ©Florian Held, TTG

Flo prefers to try out some of the other products, namely gin, crema di limoncello and a cappuccino and cream liqueur. That pleases Lisa, who believes it is utter nonsense that men like whisky and women prefer liqueurs. Scharfenstein Castle is popular with whisky lovers of any gender and from all parts of the world.

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You can visit the castle roastery without having to stay at the hotel. ©Florian Held, TTG

By this point we’re both slightly tipsy, so we’re happy to discover that Scharfenstein Castle doesn’t just make its own whisky but also roasts its own coffee. We partake of a cup to clear our heads while we have a chat with Lisa Bonda. She tells us her story.

Any good story about a castle ought to have a princess. Let’s call her Lisa. Princess Lisa works in car sales and lives in the Eichsfeld, a picturesque region in northern Thuringia. She loves her homeland and she also likes catering. And she is on good terms with whisky king Bernd. Now and again she helps out at Whisky World or in the beer van, including at one fateful festival in Duderstadt.

There she meets the brave knight Martin, who has ended up in Duderstadt after years of roaming through the world’s noblest restaurants. The emancipated princess Lisa cannot bear to see him like this, so she rescues the knight and takes him with her to the castle of King Bernd. There Knight Martin opens his own hotel, and Lisa and Martin, together with King Bernd, bring Scharfenstein Castle back to life. And they drank happily ever after.

Something like that, anyway.

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Story time at Scharfenstein Castle. ©Mira Held, TTG

Martin Henning opened Scharfenstein Castle Hotel at the height of the coronavirus chaos, with Lisa Bonda by his side. The boutique hotel, most of which is located in the castle’s modern – and somewhat controversial – extension, has 18 rooms. The rooms, the café and the 12HUNDERT9 restaurant all benefit from a liberal dose of wood, greenery and spectacular views across the Eichsfeld region.

Together, the two of them have created a luxurious retreat. Martin was living out of his suitcase for years and managed to pick up one or two ideas from around the world. “You’ve created you own version of the Omnia,” a friend told him recently, referring to the five star hotel in Zermatt where Martin worked for several years.  

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Cooking is more of a hobby for Martin nowadays. “Others go cycling after work, I do my workout in the kitchen,” he says. ©Florian Held, TTG

Perhaps things aren’t quite that exclusive here in the Eichsfeld, but there certainly is a very well thought-out concept behind everything. Lovely rooms, delicious food, fine whisky and the great outdoors just beyond the castle walls.

After our little whisky tasting, Flo and I are very much looking forward to discovering the culinary realm of 12HUNDERT9. The hotel restaurant takes its name from the first recorded mention of the castle, in 1209. Martin is the brains behind the restaurant’s menu, but he’s rarely in the kitchen himself these days. As well as being a trained chef, he’s also a sommelier and hotel manager. But as his head chef isn’t in today we get the rare opportunity of experiencing his own interpretation of the dishes.

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Scharfenstein Castle is a harmonious combination of old and new. ©Florian Held, TTG

We are served a four-course menu that Martin has cleverly upgraded by including an amuse-bouche, an entrée and a luxury chocolate to finish.

The restaurant’s ambience is in keeping with the rest of the hotel. It’s a stylish combination of historical elements and modern design, offering no end of spectacular views across the fields and forests of the surrounding region. 

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The coffee bags from the roastery are repurposed as decorative food presentation. ©Mira Held, TTG

We are savouring this chance to relax as we enjoy the amazingly fresh farmhouse bread from the Thume bakery. With bread like this the evening is bound to be a treat.

The amuse-bouche, a cornetto of smoked salmon, makes for a promising start. The fish has been jazzed up with avocado, crème fraiche and dill. It is followed by the starter, a guineafowl praline accompanied by camembert cream with herb-mustard oil and a delicate poached guineafowl egg.

Next up is trout from the nearby Wipper river. The trout rests on a bed of mountain lentils, surrounded by spears of fried green asparagus, and the whole thing is finished off with rucola foam and lime. What I like most about this dish is that you get a completely different taste experience depending on whether you’ve got just lentils, lentils and fish, or lentils with asparagus on your fork.

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Trout with green asparagus and lentils. ©Florian Held, TTG

The main course is a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Cherries filled with cream of chanterelles dominate the work of art on the plate before us, accentuated by a dark whisky jus. Martin has placed some chanterelle risotto next to the saddle of venison, which is sourced from the local forests that surround the castle. Martin tells us that it will soon be possible to get your hunting licence at the castle. Living in palatial luxury while exploring the local hunting grounds – what more could you ask for?

Guests who prefer to be that bit closer to nature will eventually be able to stay in log cabins. And there are plans for a forest sauna for thawing out frozen hunters. The bag, i.e. the game that’s been shot, will be placed in the cold storage facility that is currently under construction, before sooner or later ending up on the tables of the 12HUNDERT9 restaurant.

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Art on a plate. ©Mira Held, TTG

For now I’m happy to just try the venison here on my plate. I’m a big fan of combining meat with cherries. The earthy notes of the whisky also go very well with the rest of the dish. Not to mention the excellent chanterelle risotto, which Flo has no hesitation in describing as the best risotto he’s ever eaten in a restaurant.

While we’re still enthusing about this edible homage to the surrounding region, our dessert arrives. It’s whisky tiramisu, sprinkled with dried wild flowers at the table. My brief concern that the sweet course might tip us back into our drunken state of this afternoon turns out to be unfounded. Here, the alcohol only adds an extra dimension.

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‘Party’ tiramisu with whisky and flower confetti.. ©Mira Held, TTG

As I look out of the window across the Eichsfeld region in a satisfied daze, I am grateful to Benedict XVI for nearly visiting here. Without him, Scharfenstein Castle would probably not have established its exciting concept and be well on its way to becoming a destination venue for luxury breaks, grand days out and culinary adventures. 

Information at a glance:

Restaurant 12HUNDERT9 is open on Saturdays and Sundays from midday to 1.30pm, and Wednesdays to Sundays from 6.30pm to 11pm. The coffee roastery is open Wednesdays to Sundays from 11am to 5pm. The World of Whisky is open on Thursdays from 2pm to 6pm, Fridays and Saturdays from 11am to 6pm and Sundays from 2pm to 6pm. Guided tours of the World of Whisky, tastings and whisky-themed walks can be booked by prior arrangement. Scharfenstein Castle Hotel has 18 rooms that can be booked via the website.

 

Mira and Flo from the blog "How To Gourmet" are two real Thuringians and gourmets. With them, we discover culinary beacons in Thuringia. Enjoyment stories, wherever you look. They look for new impressions and delicacies at every opportunity, which they present on their blog "How to Gourmet".

Main picture: ©Mira Held, TTG


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