DID YOU KNOW THAT A SPIRIT CAN START ITS LIFE AS AN ARTWORK ? THIS IS WHY WE INTERVIEWED THEO LIGTHART WHO WILL TELL US ABOUT IT, ABOUT CRAFT, AND MUCH MORE - PART 1
Dear curious reader,
Finally, here we go. The first, much needed, interview. I had the honor and pleasure to meet for one hour with Berlin based Dutch Theo Ligthart, producer of Steinreich and Korn, the mastermind behind the DESTILLE FESTIVAL, focusing on craft spirits once a year in April and initiator of Freimeisterkollektiv.
Can you tell me about your first encounter with spirits? When it became something important for you?
Well, I was always fascinated with spirits. I was born in the Netherlands and I moved as a teenager to Austria. And of course there, I encountered Eaux-de-Vies and Fruit Brandies and I was always interested in how you can transform aroma or fruit into a clear spirit.
Did you start with trying and drinking or you were studying it?
As a consumer. My professional background was completely different. Then I got more and more interested in regional food and food traditions, I was finding old recipes to cook so it was like a whole variety of different approaches to flavors and aromas, always with this kind of interest of what kinds of traditions do exist within certain places and how you can transform that, how you can reinterpret these traditions.
It was actually a little bit the beginning of a general interest in food and beverages. (…)
Where did you learn about distilling then ?
Through the (spirit) Korn. I was living here in Berlin, working as an artist and I my work was always kind of conceptual, institutional critique oriented in a way, or at least that was the background, and I wanted to do a project where the brand was an art project and the product, alcohol, could also be sold in regular shops with people not knowing that originally, it was an art project.
I was interested in Korn brand also because it has a real bad reputation here in Germany but it is also the oldest spirit, with the longest tradition here in Germany. So I was interested in this spirit category. How can you have an industrially made product sold at the low price being turned into craft spirits? (...)
At that time I didn’t even know about the expression craft spirit. But still when I was doing it, I was thinking I’m gonna do this as an art project, maybe showed it at two three shows at the gallery, and then continue doing something else. The idea was to create this kind of company as an artwork and sell it through the gallery. I did Korn in 2008 for a show at the Thomas Schülte Gallery here in Berlin, I did another one at his gallery, and then I showed part of the work at the Armory show in NYC. But at the same time I got a lot of feedback from the bar world, from the bar scene and they were enthusiastic about what I was doing, and the more I got involved, the more I produce myself, and I was producing in a small distillery in Brandenburg and this older master distiller told me how to do it, and we selected the ingredients, etc.
How did you like it? What did you like the most? What did you find the most magical?
And I liked it a lot! The very magical thing for me is of course that you have this mash, which is actually not a very nice looking, and not very nice smelling product and which turns into this liquid with incredible flavours and aromas. It is almost like a magical trick turning something kind of ugly and bad smelling into something beautiful, fresh, transparent.
And then also the variety of the process, what you can do, how you can improved taste…
Was it hard to learn?
I was just doing Korn which is, compared to fruit brandies, a more technical and easier, but still, we did a lot of testing starting with different products, using different grains. That was also very interesting; you can really go into the ingredients and have different approaches. With fruit brandies, it is different. You can tell if the fruit is ripe, you can tell there are the aromas. When you have the best quality fruit and you do everything else right, you will end up with a great product.
But Korn was or is a different type of challenge ?
Of course! You can’t just chew on a grain to say this is super ripe. So you have to you quite a lot of testing and this is what is interesting.
Is there something you also not like in the fact being a distiller? Is there a process or a step you find harder or less pleasant?
Well, I mean the hard part if you are a producer is always the distribution, which of course became much easier because when I started in 2008, nobody was interested in Korn brand because of the reputation, and secondly there were hardly any German producers around producing quality products. So yes I have to say with Monkey 47 and this German gin high which then followed, things got a lot easier and now it’s like, I don’t have to explain you can have a great German spirits. When I started in 2008 I had to say “it is a German spirit but it is good”.
Some links to enrich
The website of Theo Ligthart, as an artist
The website of DAS KORN
More about STEINREICH
Next week, next episode !