Broken Heart Gin
Romance comes in many forms, though we as people are primarily occupied with the big headline moments – typically those which involve sex, marriage and babies. The romance of friendship is far less discussed, though it is the crutch upon which we hobble when life becomes too grave and the source of those wild stabs of laughter that permeate each and every day. Broken Heart Gin is a tribute to friendship – to the powerful impact a friend can have on ones life and to the gaping hole that is left behind when they depart.
Broken Heart Gin’s story begins with Joerg Henkenhaf (a pilot) and Bernd Schnabel (an engineer), two German’s living in New Zealand who formed a friendship around a love of distilling. The two men had very similar ideas on what a gin should taste like and spent three years crafting away on the recipe for what they considered to be a perfect gin. Sadly, in 2012, Bernd became ill with a particularly ruthless strain of cancer and passed away, leaving Joerg bereft.
A few months later, Joerg decided to share the gin they’d made with the world, holding it aloft as a symbol of the importance of friendship. “Bernd and I wanted to create something fresh that reflected our beautiful New Zealand surroundings, but also had larger perennial links to the traditions of alcohol making that we came from.” Said Joerg. “When Bernd passed away, it became a project I could pour my heart into to make sure he was remembered. Our message is simple and universal: cherish the moments of in-between with the ones you love because life is fleeting.”
The latter message is an obvious one, but the links to tradition require some explaining. While recipes that instil a sense of place are de rigeur in today’s gin category, those that carry with them a sense of time are less so. Yet time is a concept that Joerg and Bernd worked into their botanical line up quite seamlessly. Malt is one of the botanicals in the liquid, representing the importance of genever in the history of gin. They are unusual in using it as a botanical and not as the cereal off which the Neutral Spirit is made from. Hops and ginger also come in to play, both tipping their hats to a Purl – an ancient hot punch consisting of ale and gin into which sugar and spices were steeped.
Orange blossom, too, has its place in both history and in Broken Heart Gin. It was used to mask the smell of tobacco in yesteryear – a vice particularly prevalent amongst maritime towns. Italian juniper, lemon peel, coriander, angelica and lavender form the rest of the named botanicals suggesting a mix of traditional and modern that’s been curated with a view of articulating the idea of encapsulating different points in time.
All of the botanicals are macerated for three days in a base alcohol of molasses before being distilled in a 150-litre copper pot Carl still. Distillation, which is undertaken by Joerg, takes around four hours, with the resulting spirit blended with purified glacial water to 40% (and 57% for the Navy Strength). The liquid is then filtered and hand bottled.
The Southern Alps water and the lavender – a plant which is grown in abundance in New Zealand’s South Island – bring some Kiwi provenence to Broken Heart Gin, and with it a somewhat modern angle to the botanicals.
Broken Heart Gin to taste…
Broken Heart Gin has a herbal sweetness on the nose, with a strong and lively orange -forward citrus dominating the senses. Though green initially, the aroma transforms, moving to a deep fruit the more one breathes.
There is a hint of rosemary about the taste, though this is more than likely down to the lavender, which has been used very well – bringing a straight, strong line to proceedings and never veering on the side of soapy. Juniper comes through on the palate almost instantly and lasts for most of the sip. While never subtle, it’s matched step for step by an underlying muskiness from the hops, barley and angelica which anchor the flavour, meanwhile Orange blossom dances throughout giving the gin a certain levity.
The ginger leaves the spirit with a warming finish and while Broken Heart Gin are shy about sharing all of their secrets, the other unnamed spice has a cassia/cinnamon feel about it (meaning it’s most likely to be something like All Spice), though based on the finish, green cardamom is also likely to be included in the botanical bill.
The spirit is smooth – we sipped it neat at room temperature and it went down without a fight, but it was also well met in a G&T. The team behind Broken Heart Gin suggest an orange slice and rosemary as a G&T garnish and we’d be hard pushed to better that (though we’ll try of course – a grapefruit peel would accentuate the citrus and cut through the spice, especially when mixed with a quality tonic).
Broken Heart Gin is sold in a round neck Oslo bottle with a fairly simplistic yet effective design. The front and back of the bottle each display one half of a cartoon heart, with the liquid inside working to distort the whole heart image. No matter what way one twists and turns the bottle, the heart never slips back into its perfect shape – it still works, but it’s changed forever. The bond within the makers’ story is captured well, but it doesn’t overtake the product, nor steer it down a maudlin path; instead it turns the loss of life into a tale of positivity and a reminder to enjoy life while we have it.
Broken Heart Spirits are working on variants, though are keeping their lips firmly shut on the matter for now. We’re well and truly in the age of mellowing, so a cask-aged variant wouldn’t be a huge surprise, but seeing as they are already paying homage to the history of genever with the inclusion of malt as a botanical, it would be quite interesting indeed to see them go down that road too.
To date, the gin appears to have been well received taking home numerous gongs, including a Silver Medal at the Berlin International Spirits Award in 2015. It is starting to trickle out overseas, and is available as in countries as far and wide as the UAE, the Nertherlands, Germany… UK gin fans will be pleased to hear that it’s fairly easy to get hold of from sellers like Master of Malt, too.
We wish Joerg and the rest of the team behind Broken Heart Gin all the best with their successes; the gin is a good and true representation of the genre and the branding and story is interesting enough to captivate attention. Death is the only inevitability we all face and serves to remind us to take hold of those fleeting moments. Like a gin at dusk and all those revered moments of “in-between”, Broken Heart Gin acts as a prompt to ensure we take note and cherish them.
For more information about Broken Heart Spirits, visit their website: www.brokenheartspirits.com
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