Vincent Honrodt established Berliner Brandstifter (Berlin Arsonist, for those not in possession of a German dictionary) in 2009 after realising that none of the spirits available to him came close to resembling those made by his great-grandfather, Ernst Honrodt. Today, the company has two products in its repertoire – Premium Kornbrand and Berlin Dry Gin.
To get to the real start of the story, we need to take a step back in time: In the 1920s, Vincent’s grandfather Ernst Honrodt was the director of Vossberg sugar factory. During his time at the helm, he used local grains and sugar cane to distil Kornbrand, a uniquely German spirit with a history reaching back over 500 years. (For those who’ve never tasted any, it is somewhere between a genever and vodka that it is distilled to lower alcoholic proofs). The Kornbrand he made stood the test of time and when Vincent’s grandmother presented a bottle at a family event many decades later, Vincent was instantly taken by it, deciding to carry on the distilling heritage.
“Inspired by my Grandfather,” said Vincent, “I experienced a strong urge to produce local spirits with regional ingredients. I wanted to follow in his footsteps and carry on the family tradition.”
The company’s spirits (Kornbrand, vodka and Dry Gin) are both made for him at the Schilkin distillery in Berlin. The distillery itself has a long, complicated history that began when the Schilkin family moved from Russia to Germany in the 1920s, bringing their peppermint liqueur recipe with them.
Sparing the long and complex twists and turns of mid 90’s Germany and abridging their story somewhat… The family’s farm was confiscated by the Government during the communist era and not returned to them until 1989, when they began production once more. The distillery is now overseen by Dr. Patrick Mier – a fourth generation member of the Schilkin family, with an emphasis to focus on small artisanal products.
Berlin Dry Gin was launched in 2013, following an extensive fundraising drive on Startnext. The campaign aimed to raise the €10,000 needed to prepare, bottle and label the gin. Within a month this was exceeded, reaching just under €13,000.
Not only did this show a keen and enthusiastic market, it is perhaps demonstrative of the importance Gin enthusiasts currently place on origin and the global thirst for locally made spirits. Berlin Dry Gin is indeed a local drink, taking its botanicals from the Speisegut farm in Berlin – land leased by Berliner Brandstifter and farmed by Chiristian Heymann.
The botanicals in question are juniper, elderflower, cucumber, woodruff and malva – an undeniably unique line up that has little choice but to result in a gin quite unlike any other.
Each botanical element is macerated in a German wheat distilate for a week, then distilled separately before being blended together and watered down to 43.3%. This process, says Berliner Brandstifter, allows for a more intense flavour profile. As with all who use fractional distillation techniques – the other main advantage is that they can adapt the recipe slightly to account for seasonal changes in their botanicals and ensure a consistent flavour in their end gin. Whichever method distillers choose to make gin, London Dry, compounded or fractional – the key thing is pack in as much flavour as possible and in the case of Berliner Bandsifter, they have certainly achieved this.
Berliner Bandsifter to taste…
On the nose, the gin gives off a bright floral, fruity sweetness. There is an almost red berry richness to the smell; it’s unusual, but certainly inviting. The familiar aroma that is somewhere between raspberries and Pear Drop candy sends evocative summer time memories, yet is equally as hard to place as those hazy memories of yesteryear. To taste, juniper is not the big, booming dominant botanical, making this a much more modern interpretation of gin than purists may allow for. The sweetness that comes through on the nose translates to the tongue, while the floral elements bring a jammy sweetness – as though the flowers were left to stew for some time. Juniper-laced spice quickly comes along to sweep the sweetness up, though the two elements never really integrate fully, rather they tumble about the tongue, taking their turns to rule.
Overall while there is plenty of juniper, floral and fruity tones dominate the journey making more more akin to one of the new-wave, craft gins than a typical classic gin.
Berliner Brandstifter is a gin that would sit well in a G&T, bringing an almost raspberry-like sweetness with it that pairs well with the bitterness of quinine. A berry garnish would accentuate that nicely, but a sprig of rosemary would do well to bring out the unusually coy juniper. A looser interpretation of gin, sure, but this is a delightfully sweet and sippable spirit that is worthy of some serious attention.
It’s often easy for a company to aim towards a gendered market, especially when a product falls in a certain direction. Berliner Brandstifter, then, should be commended for not following a trope. The gin, with its berry sweetness, could easily be trussed up in a pink bottle and marketed to women, but thankfully, instead it’s somewhat plain: a clear cut glass bottle with a white label displaying the name of the gin and a clear label underneath revealing its the year it was bottled and the bottle number (out of 9999 bottles produced annually). Taste is very much down to an individuals palate, and more brands would do well to recognise this fact.
Berlin Dry Gin is a spirit with a charitable heart too, though this isn’t something the company particularly shouts about – it’s just a part of their process. They use sustainable resources and have partnered with Nordberliner Behindertenwekstätten for five years, a charity which aims to integrate people with disabilities into society by involving them in different projects.
This, along with the name, the botanicals and even the history of the Honrodt family gives the gin a strong sense of place – it is very much a Berlin spirit, made by and supporting locals. That doesn’t mean that it cannot expand beyond the city and even beyond Germany however – if it were to find the right platform it could do well and we hope to see it become more of a fixture behind bars.
The gin lends itself well to cocktails and is a great gateway gin for those not entirely sure they want a beefy, resinous, junipery gin yet – as it’s respectful of the category (there is some piney, verdant juniper in there), just a little softer and because of that, a perfect way for someone new to gin to start their journey.
For more information about Berliner Brandstifter, visit their website: www.berlinerbrandstifter.com
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