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Burnt Hill: A passion project by a pilot and a business owner

A passion project for two friends, a pilot and a business owner, Burnt Hill Vodka is offering something new to the market and aims to perfectly reflect New Zealand in a bottle.

Inspired by a small extinct volcano in Canterbury called Burnt Hill, friends Ben Paul and Nathan Johnson have created the country’s very first volcanic-filtered craft spirit.

Both Paul and Johnson were inspired to create the vodka when they thought of celebrations, moments and memories with family and friends.

“That was when we realised we wanted to create a product everyone could enjoy in those special moments without having to make a compromise and be the appealing choice,” says Johnson.

He adds that unlike any other vodka, Burnt Hill is to be enjoyed like fine wine or aged whisky, all by itself “in its unadulterated form”.

“Vodka was often referred to as the most pure spirit but also has developed a reputation of being a characterless spirit, we were confident we could challenge that.”

In the alcohol world, volcanic filtration is considered to be one of the best ways to distill vodka. With Burnt Hill volcano a defining feature of the Canterbury plains that Johnson often flies over, the Burnt Hill Vodka beverage seemed like a no brainer for the two.

Johnson says that before choosing volcanic filtration, they explored many options, but nothing stood out as much as the volcanic experience.

“Choosing to work with vodka wasn’t hard with gin being such an oversaturated category. No one was doing anything interesting with vodka and the volcanic filtration has transpired in a vodka so smooth it won international awards for its flavour profile,” they say.

Volcanic filtration is able to remove impurities from the vodka and help soften and re-mineralise the spirit.

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Burnt Hill was first launched in 2018 with a small production run of 250 bottles. Coming into 2022, the production has reached nearly 5000, a 1624 percent increase. 

But launching a vodka company isn’t all that easy, especially for Paul and Johnson who are chasing other interests at the same time.

“It’s who we are to fill our days doing things we enjoy and that is the philosophy we both bring to everything we do. Life’s short, why wouldn’t you spend it doing the things you love,” says Johnson.

“We have kept this in mind and developed our business philosophy around the fact both of us might not always be available when a decision needs to be made, we are like minded guys and trust each other to conduct ourselves in the best interest and philosophy of Burnt Hill.”

However, Johnson says they are “a pretty determined pair of lads” and that helps them overcome any obstacle that get in the way.

They say it is a learning process for them, realising that every step along the way won’t be perfect.

“For example, it took us months to develop and refine our philosophy of doing business. Taking the extra time to figure out who we are has made us into a cohesive brand that stands out against our competition. Decisions now are intuitive for us as we have a sound philosophy to filter them through,” he says.

Burnt Hill is currently available in over 150 outlets across the country and some of New Zealand’s top restaurants and bars such as Amano, Ada, Homeland and more.

Looking to the future, Johnson says over the next five years they have their eye on a few projects but want to continue learning and being authentic.

“Our vision has always been just as clear. We are producing an experience with our brand, from first introductions through to building relationships and celebrating community as it really is the community that helps bring our hopes and dreams to life,” says Johnson.

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles. To get in touch with her, email [email protected]

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