Influencer: Cameron MacKenzie
When three friends – Stuart Gregor, Matt Jones, and Cameron MacKenzie – came together to create a gin in Australia’s Yarra Valley wine country, they never realised the cult-like following they would cultivate among bartenders and gin aficionados alike. Five years and seven gins later, Four Pillars is at the forefront of Australia’s craft distilling movement.
You worked in the wine industry for 15 years, what turned your attention to gin?
I fell in love with wine whilst working in pubs around Melbourne and eventually decided to head to the Yarra Valley for a more hands-on experience. I worked in the cellar for a few years at Yarra Ridge and St Huberts and finally found myself running a couple of wineries, but that was when I became a desk jockey and stopped getting my hands dirty. I was at my happiest in the cellar, and gin was always my spirit of choice, so after toying with the idea of creating a new tonic water, my business partner Stu and I decided to make gin instead.
How did your knowledge of wine help your distilling?
My background in production and winery management served me incredibly well. When distilling, we look for the same things we would look for in wine – aroma, flavour, balance, weight, and texture. On top of this most of the equipment is the same, like the pumps, hoses, forklifts, and filters. I just had to learn to distil.
Would you agree that gin has become the spirit of the century?
It’s certainly the white spirit of the century and we are in the midst of a gin craze. Gin didn’t innovate until the late 90s and as a result, it had the image of being a drink for oldies. Now that newer styles of gin are emerging, gin is back in favour. Add to this the emergence of a global cocktail scene, and the momentum for gin as a key ingredient builds. The demand seems to be growing more and more. People are either discovering or rediscovering gin, and I see great interest in the innovation of the spirit. There are so many interesting botanicals and styles that we can play with.
Four Pillars currently produces seven gins, including the Modern Australian Gin, launched as part of your Bartender Bottle Series. What goes into making a gin “modern”?
We felt that by using juniper as a strong canvas rather than the over-arching dominant botanical, we could make a more contemporary style of gin, perfect for bartenders. Australiana has its place, but we wanted to create a reflection of modern Australia, which to us meant drawing inspiration from the rest of Asia. Neil Perry’s Chinese restaurant Spice Temple was the inspiration for the Modern Australian Gin, so we looked at Szechuan pepper as a dominant botanical. We then pieced together a recipe using bright citrus characters and the texture of macadamia.
How has the gin movement taken off in Australia?
There are over 100 Australian gins now, and I’d say this could double in the next few years. It’s an exciting opportunity to use interesting botanicals without the obligation of making a London Dry Gin.
You’ve created several flavoured gins, including Chardonnay, Shiraz, Sherry Cask, and Spiced Negroni. What was the inspiration behind these?
For us, it was about trying to innovate but still be gin. Often we will look at an existing style and see if we can take it a step further. The Bloody Shiraz Gin was a great experiment. We hadn’t tasted too many sloe gins that we liked so we created our take, a flavoured gin using Shiraz grapes instead. The aged Chardonnay Barrel Gin was an interesting way to make a more complex, slightly sweeter gin without adding sugar. Most of our experiments never see the light of day; the less said about the asparagus gin the better!
How do you drink your gin?
I go for the Rare Dry Gin with tonic, and a slice of orange, every day of the week. That said I love a Southside… and a martini… and a Negroni.
Is there a cuisine that best pairs with gin?
It depends a bit on the drink. Pairing with a G&T is like pairing with Champagne, it is best matched with dishes that are delicate, fresh and tasty.
Besides two marmalades, a bottled cocktail, and an open distillery in the Yarra Valley, what’s next for the brand?
We are soon launching a new style called Dry Island Gin; to make it we collaborated with a Swedish distillery called Herno. Their distiller Jon Hillgren has been to Australia to distil with us and we are about to head to Sweden to distil there. We’ve used Australian botanicals along with the Swedish herb Meadowsweet. The gin is delicious and we are pretty excited.