Hidden away in the town of Warrandyte in the Yarra Valley, the newly established Four Pillars Gin Distillery is quietly working away purifying spirits, bottling botanicals and slowly taking over the world of hand crafted spirits in Australia. The Yarra Valley has long been renowned for it’s vineyards and wineries, so it’s no surprise to hear that distiller and driving force behind the distillery, Cameron Mackenzie, has spent years working in the wine industry, and has since put down roots and a huge copper distillation machine at the back of a fragrant winery.
The Four Pillars Gin Distillery has been a true labour of love for all four founding members. “We did a crowd sourcing campaign, where we thought we’d just try to sell the first batch of around 420 bottles,” Cameron explained. “Honestly, we thought if we could sell a couple of hundred bottles we’d be happy with that, but we sold the first 150 bottles in eight hours, and went on to sell the first batch entirely within five days. Then the second batch sold right away and we ran out of glass bottles.” Cameron explained the distillation process and the history behind gin, talking loudly over the violent hissing of the affectionately named Wilma, the great big copper pot where the gin is distilled into the purest spirit possible. The gin is steeped in the unique combination of botanicals that the Four Pillars Distillery use. Custom made for the Four Pillars Gin Distillery, and shipped over from Germany in late 2013, Wilma sits sure and steady in the distillery, her huge vat filled with bobbing, bright oranges and a hand selected variety of botanicals. Wilma was named after Cameron’s mother because, “She’s a beautiful lady, but she had five children, and was inclined to blow up at any time!” Today he’s making Navy Strength Gin; a slight deviation from their most popular product, Rare Dry Gin, both hand crafted in a truly modern Australian style capturing the flavours of both Asia and the Mediterranean before being hand labelled and individually numbered.
With such a checkered history, the evolution of gin has stood up to a variety of cultures, botanicals and distilling techniques and has grown into a truly multicultural beverage.
“We put cardamom, coriander, star anise, cinnamon, lavender, lemon myrtle, Tasmanian pepper berry leaf, and angelica which holds all the aromatics into solution,” said Cameron. The resulting product is spicy, with great citrus flavours and gorgeous aromatics, capturing the essence of contemporary Australia’s heritage in Europe and Asia. “Gin actually started in Holland, despite stereotypically being associated with Britain. The Dutch started by creating a product called Jenever, which is an old Dutch word for Juniper. Jenever is a style of gin still made today, almost a cross between whiskey and gin.”
Straying from tradition is not an entirely unusual concept in the gin world, Cameron explained. “We looked at many different botanicals, and the two that we really loved were lemon myrtle and Tasmanian pepper berry. Lemon myrtle smells and tastes slightly reminiscent of a lemonade icy pole on a hot summer’s day in childhood.” The cinnamon and star anise add rich fruitcake tones, the Tasmanian pepper berry leaf provides warmth rather than heat, the lemon myrtle is a beautiful alternative to lemon peel, while the use of orange as opposed to the more traditional lemon sets Four Pillars Gin apart from the competitors.
Having captured the attention of the nation, Four Pillars Gin is now being recognised on a global scale, having recently been awarded the Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2014. The gin that is produced at the distillery delivers on their aim of creating a truly modern Australian product: a perfect, classic gin that is unique enough to fascinate and delight even the most hardened gin fanatic.
Words Madeleine Stuchbery Photographs Adele Van Es