New Zealand might not be the first country that comes to mind when we think of vodka, but maybe it should be. Over the years, the country has gained appreciation for its wine because of its incredible landscape and a relentless attention to craft. Enter Broken Shed, a velvety smooth vodka made from whey and water from both the North and South islands of New Zealand.
In this week’s Bottle Breakdown, we sat down with Broken Shed Master Blender Mark Simmonds to learn what goes inside every bottle and get some recommendations on the best ways to enjoy it.
Spirited: Just to start, what was your first experience with Vodka? And how does that memory impact the way you think about Broken Shed Vodka?
Mark Simmonds: I was not a vodka appreciator until we started on this journey – my experience was in water, juices and wine, and whiskey was my spirit of choice. Before we began the business, we set up a major blind tasting. Over 25 different known brand vodkas. Each randomly sampled twice over a period of a couple hours taking descriptive notes every time. It was then a revelation to me in the wide range of vodka taste profiles, and the misnomer of “neutral spirit” was very apparent to me. Some were enjoyable, many were rough – majority had issues of too much burn, medicinal notes, funky notes (forming suspicions of additives…) or just watery and out of balance. It was exciting because of the realization that if I could put together a good product we would immediately be ahead of the majority of the field.
Spirited: Broken Shed Vodka hails from New Zealand. Can you tell us a bit about how the island nation’s ethos finds its way into the bottle?
MS: An important “ethos” for New Zealand, is that we are geographically removed and far away from the rest of the world. Even now at only 5mm people, we don’t have much of a local market. So we need to export, and considering the costs due to our size/location and distance from markets, we need to produce high quality products. We can’t compete on high volume mid range products. So in dairy, meat, wine we produce highly regarded products, and consistently punch above our weight. We have to.
Spirited: We know potato vodka, winter wheat vodka, buffalo grass vodka, but Broken Shed uses whey. What is whey and how do we taste the difference in comparison to those other vodka types we’re more familiar with?
MS: Whey is a natural milk sugar liquid created as a by-product when producing milk. Using whey within vodka production gives the spirit a velvety and smooth mouthfeel with notes of vanilla butterscotch on the palate. By sourcing our whey from naturally grass-fed cows in New Zealand, we’re choosing a readily available, sustainable ingredient and reducing our waste. Our use of whey and continuous efforts in sustainability really make us stand out from other vodka brands.
Spirited: You combine water from both the North and South islands of New Zealand. How does this improve the final product?
MS: It’s all about balancing the mineral content we get from the south island mineral water. We have a unique ingredient mix using an unusually high mineral water source, and then “balancing” that by using a softer spring water. Broken Shed is all about the taste. It is always our priority and when people taste our vodka, they understand the effort we put into creating it. Our great clean taste is created entirely from our blend of two waters and the whey distillate. We took over a year to develop the recipe and the process, with frequent tasting parties in the shed. We blend a natural mineral water from an ancient aquifer in the South Island and spring water from the North Island to perfectly balance with our highest quality whey distillate.
Spirited: For those who are coming across Broken Shed for the first time, how would you recommend enjoying the vodka?
MS: We recommend first tasting Broken Shed neat for a full and mindful tasting experience. When tasted on its own, its true flavors and purity shine through. Broken Shed also works well in a martini with a twist or on the rocks with a peel of orange or grapefruit. Broken Shed is also great for infusions, its clean taste showcases the infusion ingredients and takes on the flavors quickly.
Spirited: What’s your favorite way to enjoy Broken Shed?
MS: My go-to has always been and still is a dry martini with flamed orange twist. I’ve been experimenting with subtle herbaceous vodka infusions in my martini instead of vermouth. Broken Shed is a great vodka for at-home bartenders to play around with and make their own signature cocktails.
Spirited: Summer is just around the corner here in the Northern Hemisphere, while winter is getting ready to bear down on the Southern Hemisphere. Got any summer and winter cocktail recommendations?
MS: Broken Shed is such a versatile vodka for cocktail mixing, it can truly be enjoyed year-round. The Broken Promises is a favorite for the summer. The mixture of the vodka, seltzer and kiwi puree is very refreshing. For the winter, I like to indulge in a Broken Cider. The cinnamon and warm cider really hits the spot with the combination of our vodka when the temperature dips.
Spirited: What’s next for Broken Shed?
MS: True to our ‘Vodka of Tomorrow’ campaign, we are always thinking about our next move! Broken Shed’s future is looking very bright and we’re excited to continue expanding Broken Shed’s footprint in the U.S. within the states of Nebraska, West Virginia and Florida. We’re very lucky to work with some of the best professionals in the industry and we look forward to seeing what the future brings for Broken Shed.