Distillery Visit - NORDIK Edelbrennerei

Published on 31 January 2023 at 21:20

A family distillery with a bright future and stories to tell…

(DE-NDK, no.519)


After a busy day at Hanse Spirits on Saturday and some touring around Hamburg on Sunday, I took a trip out along the Elbe estuary to the small town of Horneburg. It's about an hour’s journey, either by regional train or S-Bahn. The land out there is flat as the Netherlands, reminding me that I was in Niedersachsen - a very different part of Germany from the hillier corner of Hessen I visited back in December.


This might be one of the most accessible distilleries there is. When I went to Brennerei Henrich, I still had to walk 10 minutes from the station, but here? Look at the picture below, the wide angle on the Nordik distillery building. To the right - that’s the station in the background! Combine that with the wheelchair access to this distillery (round the back) and this is easier to visit than at least 75% (if not 90%) of whisky distilleries.


In the Eurowhisky catalogue, I make notes on how to reach each distillery (without driving, of course - otherwise the notes for all of them would just say ‘drive there’). By my count, there are only 7 other distilleries so close to a train station, and so directly accessible from the center of a large city. Even Oban is a longer walk from its station than Nordik. Of those 7, 3 are in Switzerland, 1 in Wales, 1 other distillery in Germany, 1 in Spain, and 1 in the Netherlands.  I think I’ll list which ones they are in a future blog post. Watch this space…


Arndt and Lea have revamped everything at NORDIK over the last two years. That includes their gorgeous Holstein stills - new designs from 2021, gleaming and working away. When I visited, a batch of pear brandy was bubbling away in the hybrid still (for their whisky, this is their spirit still). 


Their whisky is double distilled, and they don’t use the column on the hybrid/spirit still for the whisky, only for some other spirits. I imagine this is where much of their spirit’s character came from when I tasted it later.


NORDIK have started sourcing barley from a local farmer too - apparently he’s principally a potato farmer, but he’s seemingly been persuaded to add barley into the equation. Potatoes, pork, and barley - sounds like a good combination!

In stainless steel washbacks, NORDIK ferments their local barley mash for a week. I also think that’s where a chief part of their spirit’s character comes from - you’d think local barley in the colder, wetter area of Lower Saxony would make a heavier, spicier base for spirit than something grown more quickly and easily in warmer climes. Like rye being a cold-adapted grain that gives heavier, spicier notes - slower, less efficient plant growth tends to produce more intense flavours in all fruits and vegetables.


Lea would know more about that - despite being only 21, she has already done a year’s work experience studying distillation at Waterford Distillery. Of all distilleries, what an amazingly experimental and dynamic place to learn! Of course, it's all part of the secret Irish plan to take credit for all the German distiller’s hard work… but it gave me a chance to reminisce about hitchiking to Tramore (in Co. Waterford) back in 2014.


Way to make me feel old! You can read more about Lea’s distilling experience and place as one of Germany’s youngest distillers here.

Their fasslager (maturation cellar) had a distinctly earthy and vinegary smell to it - it's nice to suddenly feel immersed in a world of wood and spirit, remembering that interaction of raw natural materials where all whisky ultimately comes from.


Their barrels are mostly 225L European oak, with some marsala and sherry casks. However, their speciality is red wine from the Schwarzwald, a personal connection of Arndt’s. 


NORDIK keeps things simple in their whisky range by sticking to 3 expressions, all at a consistent 42% ABV. They’re currently in the process of replacing their peated sherry expression with a new and upgraded version (my words, not theirs - but it is an upgrade!).



The existing version was NAS but around 5YO, with quite a rich level of 

peat. It lingered, and I was impressed - despite being a mostly empty bottle, this had avoided turning leathery and vegetal as peated whiskies often do in that state. And remember, this was 42% - no cask strength to slow that process down.


The new expression was a similar idea, but 8YO - and I agreed with Arndt and Lea that this was a superior version. The younger batch was a solid peated dram, but peat alone - in comparison, this had a rich peat which slowly gave way to a depth of peppery sweetness on the finish. The colour was deceptively light. I think this is going to be a great, rich mystery dram for a blind tasting.




Now I liked this, but… it will divide opinion! I was expecting red fruit 

sweetness, or maybe something drier in the style of Arran’s old Amarone finish. But this was so herbal and medicinal, while completely unpeated and delicately sweet. I could only think of slivova plum brandy, but Arndt suggested grappa and was absolutely right. His word was ‘resinous’, and that was spot on.


In short, this was like a cross between a rich bourbon-cask whisky and Troyanska rakiya. I enjoyed this one, but I think it would split a room in tastings.



Deich Richter

This is NORDIK’s Marsala expression. Full disclosure - I’m a sucker for 

Marsala cask drams of all kinds. Despite being only about 5YO with a light colour to match, this had all the rich fruit I wanted from that cask without being too heavy and Ribena-like*.


*That’s Cassis for readers outside GB and Ireland

What stood out across these whiskies for me was the underlying spirit. NORDIK uses the same spirit for each expression, only changing the maturation. Small distilleries are often drawn to making their whisky as light and smooth as possible. It's not a bad thing per se, but smoothness and blandness are two sides of the same coin in whisky making. 


Arndt and Lea have clearly and deliberately created a base spirit with a heavier, maltier edge: all three drams have a consistent richness. Remember, these whiskies are all roughly 5 to 8 years old and only 42% - if the new make was rough, there’d be nowhere to hide it. I think the mix of Arndt’s experience as one of Lower Saxony’s first whiskymakers and Lea’s learning from Waterford has really paid off. The fact they use local ingredients, installed new stills… there’s some inspiration from Waterford’s terroir approach?


Bear in mind that only 10% of NORDIK’s output is their whisky. There’s a lot to see and taste at this distillery, and you can see more about that on their website or our Distillery of the Day post on Instagram. You can try brandies and rums, take bike tours through their fruit orchards, or compare their whiskies with an organised tasting on these lovely little flights…


Thankfully for anyone now interested in visiting NORDIK themselves, they are happy to have more visitors! When I say they are metres from Horneburg train station, I mean it. When I left, I was on the platform in seconds and on my way back to Hamburg almost immediately (I got lucky with the train time, but you see what I mean!). 


An hour from the city centre by S-Bahn and/or regional trains - not much to ask for a good day out! Honestly, I’m just very grateful for the welcome I received at NORDIK. If you get treated half as well when you visit, you’ll have a great time.


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