When it launched back in 2013, Four Pillars Gin was amongst the first wave of craft distillers to produce a gin in Australia. Though early to arrive, the Four Pillars team didn’t exactly jump the gun; rather, they and their peers loaded up the pistol and aimed it at a scene that was on the very cusp of explosion.
Four Pillars is the brain child of wine making and marketing duo Stuart Gregor and Cameron Mackenzie, along with brand guru Matt Jones. The trio had a core objective right from the start when it came to founding their distillery: to create the best craft spirits that Australia has to offer.
Not that distilling was their first aim. Initially, the trio thought that they might like to make a tonic water, but the idea kept on growing until they decided to go the whole hog and create a great, modern Australian gin. They spent years researching, running tests and building recipes, then they ordered in a CARL still, got all their licensing in place and tweaked designs until they had strong enough branding to launch.
The launch of the distillery, based in the Yarra Valley, close to Melbourne, was funded through Pozible, an Australian version of Kickstarter. The chaps set an initial AUD10,000 target, offering fundraisers a bottle from the very first batch of their flagship effort, Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin, amongst other ‘prizes’.
They smashed through their target on the second day and sold all 420 bottles of gin within four days. In the end, their crowdfunding raised AUD31,200, demonstrating a huge thirst for craft distilling inside Australia and giving them confidence – if it were ever in doubt – that they were definitely onto something.
It was another impressive crowdfunding tale (which at the time wasn’t as common place as it is today), and as well as strength in the Gin sector, it served as a reminder that the romance for craft spirits and small scale production holds wide appeal. There was (and still is) an undercurrent of support available for those seeking to create quality spirits with real heart and provenance.
Four Pillars Gin is distilled by Cameron, who – with over 15 years’ experience in wine production and operations – was best placed to steer the CARL still, Wilma (named for his late mother), in the right direction. Theirs was the first new CARL still to make it over to Australia, and its arrival marked a significant milestone for the German manufacturer, who can comfortably say that their stills are in operation all over the world.
Cameron spent a good 18 months experimenting with botanicals, eventually settling on a recipe comprising just 10: juniper, coriander, cardamom, lemon myrtle, Tasmanian pepper berry leaf, cinnamon, lavender, angelica, star anise and, most unusually of all, fresh whole oranges. It is quite a rare treat for a distillery to use entire fresh fruits, but Mackenzie believes that Australian citrus is hugely aromatic, and that the use of the entire fruit will support the spiced botanicals.
Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin to taste…
There’s huge orange on the nose, both peel and flesh, and it brings an earthy, almost bitter note with it. This is joined by a peppery pinch so swift and subtle it could pick your pocket and be halfway down the road with your wallet before you noticed anything. Tasmanian pepper berry leaf adds warmth, rather than piquancy, while lemon myrtle provides a unique alternative to lemon peel. It’s worth noting that lemon myrtle shows up in almost every Australian gin. So regular is its appearance that you would easily be able to take part in a blind tasting and identify which gin was, like Kylie & Jason and Hugh Jackman before it, incredibly, indelibly Australian.
To taste, both spice and sweet attacks the tongue at once The orange does a great job to soften the spice blow, though the cinnamon attack increases the longer it’s in the mouth. The spices disappear on the swallow to be replaced by an overwhelming sense of green, bushy herbs. The heat of the pepper berry dissipates quickly, leaving nothing but a crispy, green salad in the mouth. It’s delicious and great fun, and while it’s undoubtedly strange, it’s also fairly classic, using weird and wonderful local ingredients to replicate London Dry classics. Four Pillars Gin is like a cake constructed of only substitutions – it tastes as it should, but you know something’s up. This means, of course, that juniper has a part to play, though here it has a fairly subtle part to play.
With tonic the orange takes on a sweeter aroma and the anise-y, cooling qualities of star anise are given a little more time to shine. That pithy, fresh orange taste translates incredible well – it’s almost as if an entire one has been plonked into the glass, and it provides that acerbic bittersweet nature you’d expect from the fruit. The spices are calmed down, providing botanical intensity but no heat, and that great big flush of green Aussie bush last right through the sip.
The team describes the botanical contents as the best of both worlds – it’s a classic gin, but it manages to paint a picture of its home AND intrigue the most hardened of gin fans, and we can’t help but agree. Gin fans would be hard pushed indeed to find fault with it – in fact, we’re very much of the opinion that this is the perfect example of modern gin. It tells a story and it paints a picture. It takes the drinker on a journey through its home land, but it never does so at the expense of Gin’s history. It still tastes like a gin, and its botanicals all land with equal footing, but it’s undoubtedly a product of Australia.
Four Pillars’ branding is as simple as it is cool. The bottles all share the same, round-necked shape, and each feature four bumps across the top, representing the four pillars in question. The four pillars are the still, the water, the botanicals and the passion each member of the Four Pillars family has for their craft. These elements also – and you’ll have to pardon the pillar pun here – lay a great foundation from which the team can run amok with experimentation. They produced an outstanding gin, which gave them room to play around with variants.
There are Barrel Aged and Navy Strength additions, as well as an ongoing Bartender Series and the outrageously sweet Bloody Shiraz. We’ve reviewed many of these separately here, so take a look, but be warned: you will want to get hold of Bloody Shiraz almost instantly.
Back to the branding, before we get too far off piste… there’s a certain laissez-faire attitude about it. It’s simple and bold. The bottle says: ‘it’s up to you. Pick me up, don’t pick me up. I don’t care. Your loss.’ It’s rock star cool from the age when rock stars were actually cool; it’d flick a cigarette into a barrel of petrol with barely a backwards glance.
Four Pillars’ social media presence is also pretty proactive, and their website is fantastic – with a Google map driven distillery tour available for those of us not quite in the vicinity… They’ve not just developed a solid brand identity, they have continuously looked at ways of engaging with their fans and with building advocacy. In many ways, they have lead the way for Australian gins to understand the need for a three dimensional approach to strategy and how to go about celebrating provenance and nationality without the need to resort to Australiana.
Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin is readily available to buy in the UK, and the team work hard to make their presence felt. They did a tie in with chocolatier Paul A. Young and do their bit to show up at events both in England and Australia. They have never stopped making an effort, and their hard work is paying off.
When the distillery launched, they had little competition, but almost half a decade later the country is rife with new Australian craft gins. There has been no quaking in their boots from Four Pillars, just continuous growth and experimentation. In 2013, they were an example of what the Australian market could be. In 2017, they’re still leading the way, with many craft makers tipping their hats to their friendly, interactive, approachable and transparent production. In our opinion, it is in their wake and because of their success that there has been so many others who have followed into the craft sector.
The only thing to expect, really, is greatness. They’ll keep on producing excellent gins, they’ll keep on experimenting and looking towards international peers for collaboration. Their pillars are strong; their gins are fantastic – try them as soon as you can. You’ll love them.
For more information about Four Pillars, visit their website: fourpillarsgin.com.au
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