When you think about Central Otago and alcohol, the wine industry immediately springs to mind.

However, a New Zealand-produced vodka, with its origins in an old shed on the shores of Lake Wanaka, is being lapped up in the United States market.

In 2016, Broken Shed Vodka sold about 100 cases in the US and, this year, it expected to sell more than 10,000.

And with the recent appointment of two high-profile alcohol industry veterans, co-founder Mark Simmonds, from Wanaka, is excited about the future, particularly the next 18 months.


The story began when Americans Mark O'Brien and Steve Turner came to New Zealand independently on sabbaticals, fell in love with Wanaka, and decided to move to the area.

But they also had to reinvent themselves and, keen to take a strongly New Zealand-branded item back to sell in the US, they looked at various options, including meat and cheese.

They realised they were surrounded by amazing resources and finally settled on vodka, coming up with the Broken Shed Vodka brand and concept, from the birthplace of their discussions.

However, they had no product or industry knowledge, which was where Simmonds, who had a background in the beverage and alcohol industry, came in.

Initially, he thought vodka was a somewhat crazy product to get involved with, but he was impressed with the pair's very clear vision. It was also "something quite different and cool".

While about 90 per cent of vodka startups failed, Broken Shed Vodka's brand had resonated with the market.

Mark Simmonds, of Wanaka, is a co-founder of the rapidly growing Broken Shed Vodka brand. Photo / Supplied
Mark Simmonds, of Wanaka, is a co-founder of the rapidly growing Broken Shed Vodka brand. Photo / Supplied

It was crafted from water and whey distillate - which they referred to as "milk honey" - and that also appealed in the American market, and was a nice tie-in with New Zealand's dairy industry, he said.

Sales in the US tripled last year and the number of outlets increased by 1300 per cent over the past 18 months. The spirit industry in the US was a lot more developed than in New Zealand, he said.


Recently, Broken Shed Distilleries Ltd appointed Jean-Marie Heins as chief marketing officer. Heins had worked with top-shelf brands Casamigos Tequila, Grey Goose Vodka and Jagermeister.

Steve Bellini was appointed executive vice-president of business development. He had more than 40 years' experience with brands such as Jagermeister, Captain Morgan, Crown Royal, Maker's Mark and Absolut Vodka.

Bellini said the Broken Shed brand had shown great promise throughout Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Kentucky and California, with Michigan due to be added in June this year.

"Now it's time to move the brand to the national stage. It's clear that retailers across the country are re-evaluating their selection of vodka brands.

"Since almost one out of every three bottles of spirits sold in the US is vodka, this evolution is quite natural. I'm confident that Broken Shed is a unique and profitable opportunity in the changing vodka set," he said.

While it was still very early days for the business, Simmonds said he had dreamed of getting such an opportunity and the two appointments would play a pivotal role in growing the brand in the US and internationally.

It had already paid off and their involvement would "open doors like you wouldn't believe". The business had always been set up to be scalable so could cope with growth. Production was based in Tauranga.