Behind The Scenes At Melbourne’s Favourite Gin
What were the founders really trying to make when they stumbled on their discovery?
If you don’t know a thing about gin, five minutes with distiller and top dog Cameron Mackenzie will leave you surprisingly excited about a spirit you once knew nothing about. A former winemaker, and the brains behind the operation at Four Pillars, Cam has spent the past six years establishing what is now one of Melbourne’s most decorated craft spirits.
Layers of knowledge have been applied to the intricate process that is creating Four Pillars Gin, following years of careful planning and research (and plenty of trial and error). What started out as an attempt to redefine Australian tonic water, for Cam and his business partners, eventually turned into a passionate gin crafting project.
‘We realised how appalling tonic water was in Australia, there really was no selection. We wanted a bit of a side project outside of wine. We thought we’d make tonic water, and that lasted about three drinks before we said: “why wouldn’t we make gin?”‘
Cam says the team wanted to create a modern Australian gin that would pay tribute to the local region without relying on what can be described as typical ‘Australiana’. As a result, the distillery took a lot of its botanical influence from the Asian side of Australia’s flora – incorporating star anise, coriander seeds and cassia bark. It also highlighted two of Australia’s better known botanicals, lemon myrtle and Tasmanian mountain pepper.
Uniquely made with an infusion from fresh whole oranges, as opposed to conventional orange peel, it’s hardly surprising that the garnish of choice is a slice of orange – move over cucumber, lemon and lime.
Located barely twenty minutes from Lilydale, the Four Pillars distillery takes residence in the Yarra Valley’s Healesville. This is the base of the brand’s distilling operation, where the business runs out of a purpose-built distillery and tasting room in the centre of town.
The tasting room is where Cam’s passion shines. Visitors are encouraged to try a tasting session ($10) with some of the visibly enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff. Learning about the ten botanicals that go into the flagship Rare Dry Gin, you get a great opportunity to learn about the composure of gin, how you should drink it, and – in the words of the man behind the brand – have some fun along the way.
While Four Pillars enjoys the prestige that comes with having a highly sought after product (the Christmas edition gin often sells out in minutes), Cam says the overall success of the business comes down to a dedicated team of passionate people, who he quickly credits as his greatest success.
‘The biggest achievement for us has been to put together a team that just loves it. Whether they’re casuals or full-timers they live it and breathe it and it’s such a close little team in here. There’s not a single person who works here that I couldn’t put on a plane to New York or London or Beijing to do a gin presentation. They just love it and that’s rare.’
The sense of belonging that the staff have here is vibrant and recognisable the moment you walk through the doors. Even the stills in which the gin is created have taken on their own persona and are fondly spoken about by the team as if they were family members. Turns out this isn’t too far from the truth, with the three current stills named after three very special women – the mothers of the founding owners (Wilma, Jude and Eileen).
While the business is definitely benefiting from the incredible rise of gin in the bar scene across Melbourne, their ambitions lie in sharing their product with the world. Having twice won Double Gold at the World Spirits Competition in San Francisco and Best Gin at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in Hong Kong, they are marching forward but keeping their eye on the ball.
‘If we can ever get the business to a point where we are walking into bars around the world and see Four Pillars we’ll be happy, and not cutting corners to do it.’
Feeling thirsty? Discover the best places in Melbourne to start tasting gin.
For more of the latest and greatest from around Melbourne, sign up to our newsletter below.