Date: 13th February 2012

17 January 2012



Story by Matthew Bray Heather

Spirit producers are forever gasconading that they’ve created the next big thing. Gin made with pomegranate, Rum with gunpowder. More often than not these self-proclaimed wonder products tend to be nothing more than a flash in the pan, and to the devil with them anyway. If there really is something worth knowing about, it is often the case that you either stumble across it or are introduced to it by someone that is already well in the know.

In my humble opinion one of the real hidden gems on the market right know is actually being produced here in Aotearoa. Broken Shed Vodka is a superfluous spirit and the type that I speak of with vehement fervour by the reckoning of two cardinal points. One: it is luxurious boutique vodka that simply cares about quality as opposed to quantity. Two: the people behind it are admirable and palpably ardent about the first point. Most boutique brands are happy to share some half cocked old wives tale about how they filter their vodka through diamonds and add the tear of a first-born unicorn to every bottle. Here however we discover something rather extraordinary within the world of the drinks industry: A product that brings sincerity back to booze.

Mark O’ Brien and Steve Turner hail from Connecticut in the United States. They both moved over to New Zealand with their families, for a fresh start and that classically Kiwi laid back lifestyle. To begin with they were initially nothing more than fans of vodka that had found themselves in a small Otago township trying to work out a way of making a living. They then moved to Marks Shed in Wanaka for booze-fuelled discussions on future prospects. The resulting epiphany was the idea to take one of their favourite tipples and spin it around for the luxury market back in the States. Though one thing was clear from the offset; they were not prepared to cut corners. It would be expensive, time consuming, and labour intensive, but its purity would remain utterly incontestable.

They were introduced through mutual friends to Kiwi drinks, alchemist Mark Simmonds, who had spent the last twenty years producing, cider, fruit juices, mineral water and wine throughout Central Otago. Two became three and after months of deliberation they figured out the best possible blending techniques and base product to generate what we now know as Broken Shed.

Making vodka itself is a reasonably simple process, but to make a smooth one that is completely free from any additives or preservatives is an exceptionally problematical assignment. Many primarily iniquitous, yet eminent brands of vodka, add small amounts of sugars, chemical softeners, and additives such as Glycerin and Glycerol alongside various ageing syrups to artificially enhance the mouth feel and reduce the burn of the alcohol. Certainly a pretty disgraceful carry on and lamentably, one that legally they do not have to declare, no matter where in the world it is sold. Our three protagonists considered that cheating. Thus they devised a unique fresh water blending and charcoal filtration process that makes it one of the cleanest, purist and completely additive and preservative free vodkas available on the market today.

After multiple product experimentation and meticulous blind tasting they finally settled upon whey as the base source of starch. An immense misconception by philistines with very limited knowledge is that if it’s not made from grain it’s rubbish. I can tell you first hand that this is absolute propaganda and is rather like saying if it isn’t Miles Davis it isn’t Jazz. Grain vodkas, which seem to give off a dry and slightly oily mouth feel and potato vodkas, which are considered more creamy and often much smoother, both call for acres and acres of arable farmland to grow in. These crops are then annually treated with pesticides that go straight back into the soil. Whey is readily available in New Zealand due to the countries booming dairy industry and requires neither the ploughing up of countless fields nor dangerous chemical pesticides to cultivate it.

Whey is an extremely clean starch source, which in turn means a clean fermentation. This is as vital as, if not sometimes more so, than the distillation process. The latter is usually the one which people pay most attention to. Thus here it should be mentioned that the amount of times that a product is distilled is in no way an indication to the purity of that product. Broken Shed is triple distilled through a continuous still and comes off at 96%. This is then blended down to 40% with Cromwell alpine water from 65 metres below ground level on the bed of the original Kawarau River. This water source is rich in calcium and perfect for demineralising and fusing with the whey based distillate.

The bottle itself is another important factor, and here the guys sensibly decided to use a baked on artwork method as opposed to the more commonly practised acid wash technique. The latter produces the classically sexy frosted glass effect used by myriad renowned brands. The trouble with acid washing is that it yields a scary amount of highly toxic waste product, which causes indelible damage to the environment. Careful attention to details like these is another reason why this vodka is well ahead of the game. New Zealand promotes clean living and ecologically friendly concepts, thus its products should naturally reflect this. Here we see a perfect example of how a little eruditeness can have a positive effect on both the environment and the future train of thoughts of other producers.

Broken Shed has a very distinctive toasty cream soda like scent and a wonderfully smooth mouth feel and finish. This is a vodka drinkers’ vodka and one for those who appreciate the finer things in life. I’ve seen it turning up at some of this country’s most exclusive parties and it has seemingly been greeted with open arms by the leading bellwethers of New Zealands’ fashion, art and music worlds. As a result of this the guys have been constantly plagued by mixology muppets to do cocktail competitions and the suchlike, but they remain indefatigable about the purity of their product and although it’s a fantastically mixable one, they feel it to be luxurious, yet approachable vodka that should be enjoyed as they intended it to be, i.e. without any unnecessary grandiosity.

Back in Wanaka we find no chicanery. This is uber-cool vodka without all the bravado; an accessible prerogative that is remarkably not simply reserved for the esoteric. Am I a mixologist? Hell no! I’m a drinks guy. It’s time we all cut the bullshit. Broken Shed are doing something special here…they’re bringing the honesty back to vodka. Maybe we could all learn a little something from that.

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