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Gin, glorious gin!

With the explosion of boutique distilleries around the world, Australia is no exception, and a trip to the Yarra Valley confirmed that there are some very exciting things happening in the world of gin.

Four Pillars Team L-R: Stuart Gregor, Cameron MacKenzie, Matt Jones

Four Pillars Gin is a joint venture by Cameron MacKenzie and Stuart Gregor, who also make wine together under the label Dirty Three Wines, and Matt Jones, who heads up the creative agency Better Happy. Cameron is the Master Distiller and draws on his background as a winemaker when it comes to creating the flavour profile for this gin.

A couple of things add to the unique style of Four Pillars – the use of Tasmanian pepper berry leaf in the botanicals recipe, and the way the vapour basket is used during distillation. Typically in the production of gin the neutral spirit, and in this case a grain spirit, is distilled in a pot still either with the botanicals mixed in with the spirit or after the botanicals have been macerated in the spirit. During distillation the alcohol-rich vapours are collected in a narrow tube, or the lyne arm of the still before they are condensed and collected.

Photo: Oliver Ree

A distiller has the option to feed these vapours through a basket, which usually holds dried citrus peel, after which they are passed through a condenser and collected as full-strength gin. This process adds another layer of complexity to the final product with the addition of flavours from the dried peel to the overall flavour profile. Some producers who use this method include Tanqueray for their Tanqueray 10 gin and the City of London Distillery gin among others.

Where Four Pillars differentiates itself is that instead of dried citrus peel they use fresh oranges cut in half. The effect for the Four Pillars Rare Dry expression is an intense orange note, alongside notes of cinnamon, cardamom, and pepper berry to name but a few. Perhaps more accurately, the effect is a rather delicious gin that when paired with the right tonic water makes an unstoppable combination and, with two gold medals at the 2014 Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Competition to complement a stash of gold from the 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, I am certainly not alone in my appreciation!

Other expressions include a barrel-aged gin. After the gin is produced it is transferred to a solera of nine French oak barrels where it rests for a period of time before Cameron assesses each barrel and creates a blend for release. Added to the botanicals seen in the Rare Dry expression are softer notes of cinnamon and nutmeg and on the palate some delicious flavours of anise and liquorice. This is a gin of good complexity that is easily enjoyed neat with a cube of ice but works just as well in a cocktail.

The final gin in the trio is the Navy Strength delivering on its promise at 58.8% abv. This gin is infused with finger limes from Byron Bay as well as fresh turmeric, which result in flavours of coriander and star anise being highlighted along with savoury earthy notes from the turmeric. The higher alcohol contributes a smooth texture and good palate weight to this gin, which like the Barrel Aged expression is easily drunk neat or in a cocktail. Because Byron Bay finger limes play a central role in this gin, production is limited to when they are in season and only one edition of the Navy Strength is released each year.

Future plans for the Four Pillars team include opening a cellar door on the main street of the Yarra Valley town of Healesville, which will host visitors for tastings, workshops, masterclasses and other events throughout the year.

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