Berentzen Korn

Distant Ancestor of Rye Whiskey?

I’ve been meaning for some years to get a bottle of German korn. In fact, when researching recently various questions relating to the origin of rye whiskey, I found a 2004 post of mine on the forum of, America’s premier online bourbon forum, indicating an interest to taste this.

Well, 13 years later, I finally did.

It is sold at LCBO for about the price of a standard vodka while being 32% abv, under vodka proper by eight points. This doesn’t bother me and I’d guess the reason is because the drink typically is drunk neat, often with a beer alongside. I imagine the producer considers it tastes better at the lower proof and indeed the mouthfeel is soft and silky.

If consumed usually with beer – so more alcohol – probably it is felt it should be sold weaker than a standard vodka. I don’t think maximizing company margins is a factor, in other words.

32% is still plenty strong anyway.

The taste is excellent but it’s vodka-like, it tastes like a high quality vodka. I was hoping for some of the character a distillation at lower than a presumed 94-95% abv would produce. There is I think a faint grain note, it reminds me somewhat of Global Alcool I bought in Quebec last year that I’ve mentioned a few times here.

That one had a slight “gamy” note, I think I called it, which I liked as it showed the quasi-whisky character. This Berentzen though is closer to standard vodka than the Global.

I note from the company’s website that it offers the well-known Doornkaat schnapps, at 38% abv which it indicates is triple-distilled, while Berentzen korn is double-distilled. The extra distillation to the former might impart a touch more neutrality, but it’s faint, as I’ve had the other drink over the years. The main difference is surely the abv difference and both are wheat-based.

Perhaps some German korn does offer a whiskey-like taste, general online comment suggests this is so. But in any case the Berentzen is quite distant from your typical “white whiskey” sold by numerous distillers in North America.

It’s very good though, I’m not sorry I bought it. Occasionally I like an ounce of vodka straight, the different brands do taste different despite the neutrality mandated by law. And it will be useful for Bloody Marys and Martinis.

I always wonder how close to neutrality early 1800s distillers got. Their trade ads and other evidence, for example, Samuel M’Harry’s distilling text, do claim a tasteless character in some spirit produced. Sometimes they call it alcohol, sometimes pure spirit. These are distinguished often in ads and other sources from various sorts of whiskey: rectified, common, old, etc.

I have a feeling it was in fact possible to attain a high degree of neutrality, not that it would have been very economic before perfection of the column still. The need for repeated distillations or charcoal filtrations using more fuel and manpower, etc. would have dissuaded distillers although it appears some offered it, perhaps at a premium to their regular product.

All this to say, I feel the current taste of this drink may not resemble the typical korn of the period when the Palatinate emigrants came to Pennsylvania and adjoining areas. That white spirit was probably closer to white whiskey or white rye, at least those I’ve tasted, than the korn from Berentzen.