Meet the Distiller: Broken Heart Spirits

Broken Heart Spirits has both a beautiful and tragic backstory. Joerg Henkenhaf and his friend Bernd Schnabel, two Germans living in New Zealand's Southern Alps, formed their friendship around a still and their passion for spirits. The two created a gin, crafted with eleven botanicals and enjoyed with a twist of orange.

Sadly, Schnabel fell gravely ill and passed away. 

As Henkenhaf healed his broken heart after the loss of his dear friend, he decided to share the gin they created with the world and launched Broken Heart Spirits. 

For 27 years, Henkenhaf followed his passion as a commercial airline pilot but his childhood among family vineyards always remained in the background. 

“Seeing my grandparents and parents work on the vineyards, I was very involved in the alcohol industry from an early age, so it felt only natural to pursue this as a hobby.” 

Sustainability is an integral part of Broken Heart Spirits and is one of the main reasons Henkenhaf began pursuing his hobby in New Zealand. 

“When I first started spending time in the vineyards in Gibbston Valley, I was shocked at the amount of grapes being discarded.  

“In Germany, the old grapes would have been distilled for Grappa, so I collected the used grapes from the vineyards and started making my own Grappa recipes.”

Henkenhaf also helps other wineries in the region with their sustainability practices by distilling their lees product, producing brandy for them to store and then selling further on. 

Other ingredients for the gin are sourced as locally as possible, with the quince fruit for the gin and liqueur picked from Henkenhaf’s own back garden. 

Broken Heart Spirit’s recently opened Queenstown’s first boutique gin tasting room, The Gin Garden. 

Henkenhaf had wanted to open a dedicated tasting room for quite some time.

“I would get lots of requests for private tastings but have never been able to because the distillery is at my private residence.

“By opening the Gin Garden, I can now cater to those who want to try our spirits, learn about the distillation process and hear the story behind our products.”

Henkenhaf chose Arthur’s Point because it is a growing area with a large residential population and commercial accommodation. 

“There are several hospitality venues in the area but nothing like the Gin Garden, so I feel like we complement the existing businesses and add value to the area.”

The fit-out of the Gin Garden was designed mostly by Henkenhaf himself. 

“I had a vision in my head and knew exactly what I wanted.”

The most important feature is the private tasting room, he said, which can seat up to 16 people and accommodate groups for dinner or just drinks. 

While enjoying his own gin is all well and good, it is the international recognition that is the most rewarding part of his job, said Henkenhaf. 

“Winning a Double Gold at the NY Fifty Best and the Best New Zealand London Dry at the World Gin Awards in 2021 was particularly satisfying. 

“We also love it when customers email us unprompted with feedback, compliments and stories about their love for our products.” 

Broken Heart Spirits launched their first beer this year and with it now in the market, Henkenhaf is focusing on setting up a canning plant in the distillery. 

Also coming soon is the release of a Plum Liqueur created by Broken Heart Spirits in collaboration with Annabel Langbein. 

Broken Heart Spirits is a small, tight-knit team that works collaboratively in all aspects, from product development, distilling, packaging, labelling, distribution, sales, and marketing. 

“We are passionate about what we do and the product we produce. I feel this is a key ingredient and one of the reasons we are growing every day.”