A few weeks ago TML ran a delicious piece from Tracy Wood’s website Visually Delicious overflowing with the virtues of the Martini. If you are sitting comfortably in a bar in Manhattan that’s probably the way you take your gin. Possibly from the green barrel-shaped Tanqueray bottle. Dry, very dry or dirty. With a twist or an olive. However if you are in a gentlemen’s club in St James or a pub in Brighton or Bristol you may well be comforting yourself with a Gin and Tonic. Gordon’s, Beefeater or Plymouth perhaps. Slice of lemon, please.
They are the traditional ways to enjoy this venerable spirit.
If you are from a younger generation, who knows how you take it today. There are many more newer brands to seduce you and dozens of gin-based cocktails, old and modern.
The word gin comes from the old English genever, the Dutch jenever, the French genvriere and further back from the Latin juniperus, the Juniper tree.
That is because the dominant flavouring in gin should be juniper; although there are many other ‘botanicals’ used to give each brand its unique flavor. Anise, almond, coriander, liquorice, nutmeg and the peels of oranges, lemons, grapefruit and limes are some of the subtle flavours that may attract you to your choice.
If you were in Australia a decade ago, you would have bowed to the lingering spirit of the Old Country. British gin was it.
But just a few years ago, enlivened by the success of the malt whiskies from Tasmania, the country’s smallest state, which were winning awards at the highest international level (see the TML article some months back) a trio of lads assembled in Healesville in Victoria, a slightly bigger state, with their eye on the prize.
Good friends Stuart Gregor, Cameron Mackenzie and Matt Jones thought it time the world was taken on. And they did. And they succeeded. They assembled their botanicals and warmed up the gin still.
Four Pillars Gin
Four Pillars is their brand name. Wait a sec, there are only three of them. A closer enquiry told TML that the four pillars are not the blokes behind it but the four basics necessary to support the spirit itself.
One, the stills. Two, the water. Three, the botanicals. Four, a little bit of love.
The stills are manufactured by CARL of Stuttgart, Germany. This family company has, since 1862, been producing the world’s finest copper stills, only 25 per year. Wilma (450 litre capacity) is the name of the lads’ first, followed by Jude (600 litre) and Eileen a small 50 litre still for ‘experimentals’.
The water comes from the upper reaches of the Yarra River filtered through the ferns and eucalypts of 157,000 hectares of old growth mountain forests.
The precise recipe of botanicals is as you might expect is a trade secret but the lads will let on that they include two Australian natives in Tasmanian pepperberry and lemon myrtle. There is an Asian influence with cardamom, star anise, cassia and coriander; juniper of course and lavender and angelica root. The delicious surprise is whole oranges going into their botanicals basket and fresh finger limes in their Navy Strength.
A little bit of love? How sweet from three big strong blokes. But you can tell it’s there. They love gin. They love the painstaking craft of small batch distilling. They love cocktails and stories. They love people. They know not everyone will love all they do, and that’s OK.
To sum up they say: “We want to be special to a few special someones.”
We put a few questions to Stuart, founder and communicator.
TML: What was the conversation that started this distilling journey?
Cam and I were drinking a lot of gin & tonic (not entirely unusual) and we were despairing about the lack of good tonic (this is pre Fever Tree and Capi days) and so we thought maybe we should make tonic. But an hour later it was “why don’t we make gin that’d be way more fun.” And then we started seriously investigating it and here we are a few years later.
Are you a G&T traditionalist or a Martini Man?
I’m a G&T guy. My favourite is still our Rare Dry gin with Fever-Tree Mediterranean tonic. But I make a pretty mean (read strong) martini at home and also I love a gimlet and a South Side.
Preferred Martini recipe?
If it’s for me at home it will have 90ml of gin (maybe our new Cousin Vera collaborative gin we made in Spain) and 20-30ml of good fresh dry vermouth – I like Dolin from France and Maidenii from Aus. People need to remember to keep their vermouth in the fridge and open not much longer than 6-8 weeks. So if you’re going to make a martini make more than one, and then do it again the week after and the week after that.
Do you drink any other spirits? How do you like them, simple mixers or in cocktails?
I am a whisky lover for sure and I do drink a bit of it over ice when the occasion arises – like most weekends from April-September. I love Scotch, and am gaining an appreciation for Asian whiskies – Hibiki and Kavalan are two standouts for me at the moment.
What reactions have you had from the Big Boy Distillers?
So far so good. Nothing’s really been said or done. We are just minding our business trying to do the best we can and so, I imagine are they. We’re not quite big enough yet to register on the radar of Tanqueray or Hendricks I reckon. I am working with them however from a political standpoint as I also have the role as Chair of the Australian Distillers Association and we are working with DSICA in trying to convince the Federal Government to give spirit producers a fair go when it comes to tax. We are the most heavily taxed spirits industry in the world so it makes it hard for us to compete in the global market.
Anything new in the pipeline?
We will continue to try new things and make more interesting gins. Our focus is to continue to distill great gin and engage with our customers all over the world to encourage them to make great drinks. We fully intend to have a lot of fun doing this over the next few years.
Did we mention success? In 2014, only six months after its establishment, Four Pillars was awarded a Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Of 92 gins entered only 9 were so awarded.
Said Stuart at the time: “This is the first competition we have entered, domestic or abroad. We might retire from entering them now with a perfect record.”
Just kidding, because in 2016 Four Pillars was the only gin from Downunder to be given a Gold from each of the judges at the same event.
Raise a glass to the lads’ success at www.fourpillarsgin.com.au