The business of distilling

3 minutes read
Posted 27 April, 2024
EightOaks Distillery1 tinted

Broken Heart

Broken Heart Spirits are distilled in Queenstown and the business was created by Joerg Henkenhaf and Bernd Schnabel.

The origin story of the distillery is one of friendship and tragedy, as Bernd sadly fell ill and passed away suddenly in 2012. Joerg, on his own path of healing, realised that as much as a broken heart hurts, it’s also a space to be filled with new beginnings – he decided to share the gin with the world and call it Broken Heart for him.

Henkenhaf is originally from Germany where his family would make wine and fruit-infused spirits. His first endeavour here was a distillery called Gibbston Spirits, where he wanted to make use of the grape skins that many winemakers were composting instead of utilising.

“I was involved in the vineyard industry and I started with grappa and brandy,” Henkenhaf says. “Then gin was something that interested me and I wanted to do those things together with my friend Bernd, so we decided to do a gin – everything was done – and then he became ill and died.”

When they first started out, they were only the third distillery in New Zealand, today there’s around 170. Joerg was also one of the founding members of the New Zealand Spirits Association.

“In the beginning, I thought ‘let’s just have a little bit of a club where we talk about different ideas.’ It became a well-known association for defining standards in New Zealand and taking care of things – it became an important tool.”

Because of our more remote location there are different challenges in running a distillery here, Joerg says it’s so important to be innovative. Sustainability is also at the forefront of the business. They’ve recently released an eco refill pouch, encouraging people to purchase a bottle of their chosen spirit just once and then continue to refill it. The reception so far has been very positive.

“It has significantly less weight – in a carton with bottles we can fit six bottles and in the same carton we can get 12 pouches. We can double the amount of liquid in there, so it has quite a big impact on our carbon footprint as well.”



An expansive 36-hectare site sitting 80 metres above Lake Dunstan and Mt Pisa is home for Scapegrace Distillery.

Daniel McLaughlin is the managing director at Scapegrace and started the company 10 years ago and it took them around two years to get to market before that.

“I started with my brother-in-law Mark Neal and a family friend, Richard Bourke,” McLaughlin says. “We’re all from the industry but in different areas. I had a business that I started when I was in my early 20s, which was a liquor promotions agency. Mark was ex-Lion and Richard was brand and strategy and worked a lot in the liquor space.”

The business was started as the trio felt New Zealand was underrepresented on the world stage for spirits. They were keen to create a company where New Zealand was known for creating some of the world’s finest spirits and have since grown to become NZ’s largest independent spirits company.

“Myself and Mark aren’t the distillers but we’ve got our master distiller, Anthony, who’s been with the company from early days. He distils all our spirits and he’s a second-generation distiller that was self-taught. He came on a board and does all our gin, vodka and whisky distillation at the moment.”

Scapegrace ended up in our region when they were on the lookout for the right place to build NZ’s largest distillery. One of the reasons they chose the site was because of the phenomenal climate, which McLaughlin says is perfect for ageing whisky. The water source was another deciding factor, as well as the fact more than half of the shareholders are based in Otago.

When McLaughlin was looking to get into the industry, he was asked ‘how are you uniquely qualified to succeed in the industry?’ He says that having experience and understanding when starting up a business is a good start, and that being uniquely qualified is pretty important.

“Having a good team is really important – people around you that have skillsets in areas that are stronger than yours. You don’t want everyone to be good at the same thing. We’ve got a really good team here at Scapegrace and everyone brings their own unique set of skills.”

Caption Daniel McLaughlin from Scapegrace

Daniel McLaughlin

Cption Joerg Henkenhaf from Broken Heart

Joerg Henkenhaf


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