Several years ago I made my only visit to New Zealand, to write a story about the phenomenal success of Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc for The Times in London. After an idyllic night in a cottage on the vineyard, I spent the next morning with the winemaker, who took me to see an impressive view over Cloudy Bay itself. I said it was reassuring to know not only that Cloudy Bay does exist, but that it’s so beautiful. ‘Yes,’ he told me. ‘Some of these places they name drinks after can be a let-down. I’ve been to Jacob’s Creek and it’s so small you could jump across it.’
Broken Shed History
Meanwhile, about 300 miles south-west of Cloudy Bay, in a broken shed on Lake Wanaka, surrounded by the mountains of New Zealand’s Southern Alps, another alcohol story was brewing – or rather, distilling – when three men walked into a shed. Two were from Connecticut and had gone to New Zealand for a better life. There they teamed up with a local guy and, as guys do, started hanging out in this shed. But instead of shooting the breeze and downing beers, they decided to try to make the perfect New Zealand vodka. When they found their formula and launched it in 2010, what else could they call it but Broken Shed Vodka?
Making Broken Shed
The not-so-secret ingredient in Broken Shed Vodka is whey. A by-product of cheese-making, whey has been used over the years for various things: in bread dough, as a soft drink, as a nutritional supplement, and as a milk alternative, for example. It is not one of the traditional sources of vodka, although there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be.
By fermenting the whey with yeast, and then removing the yeast, you’re left with a liquid that’s 4-6% alcohol and ready for distillation. The water used for distillation is partly spring water from those New Zealand Southern Alps, which is filtered but has the natural minerals left in it. This is combined with water from a North Island source that is both filtered and demineralized. The liquid is distilled four times, and that’s it. No added ingredients. Nothing but whey and water: 60% water and 40% alcohol.
I love a good vodka bottle and Broken Shed’s is handsome. It’s cork-sealed, which I like, and has a red-roofed broken shed on the front, with a clear window to enable you to see another broken shed on the back against a background of the snow-covered Southern Alps. It gives a feeling of purity and freshness before you’ve even taken the top off.
Tasting Broken Shed
My memories of New Zealand were of that purity and freshness, and they came flooding back as I sniffed and then sipped the drink, neat and straight from the freezer. I persuaded my wife to have a glass, which she did with some reluctance as she hardly ever drinks vodka neat, though she might taste a little of mine out of curiosity if I’m trying something. She sipped, and savored it. ‘Wow,’ she said. ‘This tastes really good.’
She drank some more. ‘I’m getting some hints of fresh mint… very soft… and some anise and vanilla,’ she said. ‘There are some nice subtly-sweet afternotes too. A little bit of almond? It gives a really smooth warm impression.’ I think she liked it.
I then decided to try it in a mix but my wife, surprisingly, declined. It did seem a bit of a sacrilege, to blend a premium vodka with an orange/pineapple juice mix straight from a bottle in the fridge, but… it was amazing. It gave the juice a pure-tasting kick that made it feel like I was drinking a freshly-squeezed OJ, but one with a very light booze buzz to it. I’m not surprised that a lot of bartenders are choosing Broken Shed for their cocktails. In fact, when it first arrived in the USA in June, 2012, you had a better chance of finding it behind a bar than in a store, but thankfully that’s now changing as distribution widens.
My own verdict? Well, my wife already said it all for me. In fact she wanted another one neat the next night. Bummer. I’m going to have to buy her her own bottle.
You can currently buy Broken Shed in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and California. It is also available in the UK and other overseas markets. Oh, and in New Zealand. Find out more on the Broken Shed website.
In Connecticut Broken Shed is distributed by Worldwide Wines. In New York, New Jersey and California it is distributed by MHW. In the UK Broken Shed is available through all Selfridges shops and is imported by the Black Dog Wine Agency.