A devilishly good idea

Ancient grain spirit distillery Echter Nordhäuser

"Italy has grappa, Greece has ouzo, and Thuringia has korn." In keeping with this motto, visitors to Nordhausen cannot help but encounter this ancient local speciality: A grain spirit, or "korn", called Echter Nordhäuser.

The first recorded mention of the distilling of grain spirits in Thuringia dates back to 1507, when Nordhausen's town scribe alluded to a "distilled beverage". What could be a better souvenir? No flight of fancy, but a devilishly good idea.

According to a fairy tale by the Thuringian poet Ludwig Bechstein, Nordhausen's first distiller was none other than the Devil himself. Cunningly, he taught the people of Nordhausen the art of distilling schnapps, and soon, there wasn't a place in the world where more of this devilish beverage was distilled. The Devil's aim was obvious: He wanted to make sure that hell would have a steady supply of souls – not a problem, thanks to people's plentiful enjoyment of this excellent firewater.

Blick in das Brennereimuseum in Nordhausen

©Martin Kirchner, TTG

The town councillors at the time were apparently just as clever, because they put a tax on the "distilled beverage", the so-called "Bornewynzins". The craft of distilling prospered; quality control became increasingly important, and only inspected, first-class barrels were awarded the much-coveted council seal of approval. In 1789, the town councillors passed the first purity law for the local grain spirit called "korn", which henceforth had to be distilled from at least two-thirds of rye and a maximum of one third of wheat or malt. Back then, there were around 100 distilleries in Nordhausen. The only truly genuine "Nordhäuser Korn", distilled using only rye, had many fans thanks to its rich aroma, including some famous personalities such as the first Chancellor of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck.

Junge Frau mit Audioguide erkundigt die Nordhäuser Traditionsbrennerei

©Christian Schelauske, Traditionsbrennerei Nordhausen

Living tradition

However, back to the souvenir. Thuringia's oldest korn distillery is now not only home to a shop but also to a unique exhibition at the original historic site where korn was already distilled over 110 years ago. In an impressive Art Nouveau building, you can learn how grain has been turned into korn in Nordhausen for the past 500 years. In a new multimedia guide, the rather batty Henriette the Hen, which is sort of the Nordhäuser Korn mascot, has picked up some interesting korn stories. It's still a working craft distillery: Aromatic gin specialities and a strong kümmel digestif are now distilled here by hand. This speciality, called Feiner Alter Doppelkorn, is aged in the old customs cellar, where it obtains its unique mild yet also spicy flavour.

Best visit the distillery shop, then! Cheers and bottoms up, thanks to this wide choice of spirits, liqueurs and delicatessen not for sale in any supermarket.



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