Cameron Mackenzie of Four Pillars Gin

Photographs: Cory White
Words:  Raynor Peirce

Ever since humanity began to fashion and wield stone implements we have sought to produce alcohol. It’s almost as if the frightening realisations experienced through our intellectual awakening fostered a desire for escapism. Since its invention in the 17th century, Gin, as much as any other alcoholic spirit, has maintained a consistent popularity. Traditionally Gin has been enjoyed by both the aristocratic and working class alike, with its consumption influencing art and instigating conflict. For good or for bad its profound impact on the landscape of society is undeniable.

Among a new wave leading the charge for the modern incarnation of this much loved spirit is Cameron Mackenzie from Four Pillars. Established in 2013 the Four Pillars distillery is located in the picturesque setting of the Yarra Valley just outside Melbourne, Australia. It is an area more commonly associated with the production of quality cool climate wines, with Cameron himself having a background in the wine industry. Taking the lessons learnt from this past experience Cameron explains his approach to his new medium. “We came at this very much from a sensory angle. Anyone in the wine industry would acknowledge that there are technically perfect wines out there that are really uninteresting. Then there’s edgy, interesting, textural wines that have a real story about them. We came at gin with that approach. We deliberately wanted something quite unique.”

The distillery is currently utilising a space within an operating winery but plans are underway to relocate to a new facility which will offer a true distilling and tasting experience. Looming large within the existing space, like a grandiose piece of steam punk machinery, is a handmade German still. Complex piping connects the elegant copper kettle to various chambers and columns, with the overall splendour of the still speaking volumes about Four Pillars’ commitment to craftsmanship.

Cameron, a refreshingly genuine character himself, has crafted a spirit of crystalline character. He explains the method of distilling his gin with intoxicating enthusiasm. The process begins with a neutral Australian wheat spirit. The spirit is then heated and combined with various flavouring agents known as botanicals in the large copper kettle. A botanical infused vapour is released which in turn passes through the seven aroma plates of the stills towering column, with each plate cooling and then reheating the vapour to ensure only the purest spirit reaches the final bottling phase.

Four Pillars set itself the goal to produce a gin that represented modern Australia and it is within the amalgamation of botanicals that they discovered the instruments to achieve this. By approaching numerous chefs and exploring various menus the team were able to ascertain what their interpretation of a modern Australian flavour profile would look like. “Great modern Australian food is this celebration of cultures, it looks at Asian spices, it looks at European characters, it’s just so diverse” Cameron explains. After experimenting with over 80 different botanicals a blend of 10 were finalised. Juniper, the obvious inclusion to help anchor the spirit as gin was added along with spices such as cinnamon, coriander, star anise and cardamom from South East Asia and the Middle East. Unique Australian botanicals lemon myrtle and Tasmanian pepper berry were included to deliver floral character and warmth to the palate. The European elements lavender and angelica were each selected along with the final piece of the puzzle: fresh orange. The addition of which provides brightness and a little piece of the Mediterranean. The success of this fusion of botanicals with such diverse ethnicities is achieved through balance. Some flavours provide a foundation for the next yet none dominate, with each allowing space for the others to divulge their own unique character. Ultimately it is a utopian representation of modern Australia. Harmony amongst our own assorted backgrounds.

If validation was needed that Cameron has taken Four Pillars in the right direction it was recently received in the form of a double gold medal at the 2014 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. As their “rare dry gin” pushes the boundaries of standard gin definition the Four Pillars team was elated to receive such accolades.

Some often drink excessively to transcend their conventional identities, but a quality spirit like Four Pillars Gin offers this experience with minimal consumption. By whole heartedly engaging with the drinking experience we can be momentarily transported to a different time and disposition. Perhaps back to the gin dives of Gregorian London, or to an occasion that featured an exceptional meal, rich in exotic spices. And maybe, with a little extra imagination, we could posses all the elegance and composure of an Ian Fleming novel.

So next time, drink responsibly and consider Four Pillars Gin.

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