Korn: The traditional Grain Liquor from Germany

By Timo Torner / Last updated on March 20, 2023

Korn is a grain-based spirit from Germany similar to Vodka. For a long time, it had a pretty bad reputation, but in recent years it has become more popular. And there's a lot more to come.
Shot of Korn garnished with grains

In Germany, especially in the north-western part of the country, Korn is a huge thing.

If you've visited Germany before, you might have seen bottles of Korn in the supermarket. Products like Nordhäuser Doppelkorn, Doornkaat Doppelkorn, and Fürst Bismarck Doppelkorn are widely available. For everyone else, Korn might be a complete unknown. So, what is Korn?

Technically, Korn is a subtype of Vodka. Just like Tequila is a specific subtype of Mezcal. At first look, it looks just the same, a crystal clear and transparent spirit. Flavor and taste-wise, Korn is much richer, though. And that's also part of why it currently celebrates a comeback in Germany.

What exactly is Korn?

Even if it sounds like "corn", Korn has nothing to do with it. The term "Korn" in german means a single grain.

Ultimately, Korn is a more strictly regulated subcategory of Vodka. And what some don't know: Korn has its own purity law. As with the German purity law for beer, additives other than yeast and water are not permitted.

Accordingly, only wheat, buckwheat, oats, barley, and rye are allowed for distillation. In addition, production must be in Germany, Austria, or the German-speaking community of Belgium. The result is a pure and regional product without any additives.

The clear spirit must be at least 32% ABV. Korn containing 37.5% alcohol is called Kornbrand or Doppelkorn. And everything above 38% is always Doppelkorn which translates to double-Korn.

How to drink Korn?

Korn is typically served and consumed as a shot. It is also often combined with soft drinks like Fanta - the celebrated Fanta-Korn. This mix is well-known for delivering the worst hangovers, so probably stay away from this combination.

Instead, have a look at the "Herrengedeck". The Herrengedeck - or Gentleman's Menu - has a long tradition in German drinking culture. Ordering a Herrengedeck at a bar or restaurant will get you a beer and a shot of Korn on the side. -this creation is pretty similar to the Boilermaker cocktail.

Lately, the grain spirit is also becoming popular with many craft cocktail bars as a substitute for Vodka. In contrast to the almost flavorless Vodka, Korn has a stronger inherent taste. That is due to the fact that the spirit doesn't get filtered like traditional Vodka and, therefore, keeps more flavors in the product.

Korn cocktails aka Korntails

As more and more bartenders started to look at Korn as a new cocktail ingredient, the so-called Korntail movement began. Korntail is a newly created term for mixed drinks based on the grain spirit.

One of the best places to get familiar with these drinks is probably the beach bar Geeske & der swarte Roelf on the island of Borkum. The establishment has the largest selection of Korn in Germany. More than 74 different Korn products are on the menu. Besides this gigantic selection, the bar also serves amazing cocktails based on Korn.

The history of Korn

Korn was first mentioned in 1507 in Nordhausen in Thuringia as "distilled water". Already then, Korn, or Kornbrands, was so well-liked that a ban on grain brandy was imposed in Nordhausen in the mid-16th century. The reason was presumably a protest by beer brewers and bakers in the same area disputing over grain and malt. But only 30 years later, the ban got party lifted.

In 1789, again in Nordhausen, the first purity law for grain brandy was issued. It stated that two-thirds rye or grain and at most one-third barley or malt could be used for distilling.

The first half of the 20th century brought ruin to many manufacturers. Especially to smaller producers because World War I and II led to a shortage of grain and copper for the distilleries. It took quite some time for the industry to recover, but eventually, it did.

Today, the bulk of industrial production is in Nordhausen in northern Thuringia, Haselünne in Emsland, and Oelde in Westphalia. All the distilleries producing Korn account for a quarter of German spirits production.

Aged Korn

Inspired by the newfound love for Korn, some distilleries have been coming up with new ideas. Just like Brandy and other aged spirits, they started barrel-aging Korn. Two of those premium distilleries are Heydt and Sasse.

Heydt produces several aged Korn products. These distillates age for up to eight years in former Whiskey, Cognac, or Sherry casks. When you buy them in Germany, you can get these bottles starting from $20 or 18€.

Sasse produces something even more exclusive. Their Bordeaux-cask finished Korn is sold for a whopping $380 or 350€. Sasse is classified as World-Class Distillery by the World-Spirits Guide and knows how to produce premium products.

As the market for premium Korn slowly grows, I feel these aged Korn products are not the last we have heard of.

Other transparent spirits

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