Australian makers of craft spirits come to the fore

Master distiller Cameron Mackenzie tested 80 botanicals in different concentrations and temperatures before arriving at the 10 botanicals used in the gin. -- PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Master distiller Cameron Mackenzie tested 80 botanicals in different concentrations and temperatures before arriving at the 10 botanicals used in the gin. -- PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

"Modern Australian gin" is made by steaming fresh oranges in gin during distilling process

Australia, already known for producing international award-winning wines and craft beer, can now add craft spirits to the list.

Among a new breed of Australian craft spirit producers is Four Pillars Gin, which recently bagged a double gold award at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits competition in March. Only nine out of 92 gins got the double gold nod. It is a huge achievement for the distillery, which is barely a year old.

Four Pillars' master distiller Cameron Mackenzie, 44, who was in town for the brand's official launch here last Tuesday, tells Life! that the plan to produce gin came about unexpectedly 31/2 years ago.

The original plan was to produce tonic water, a usual accompaniment with gin, with Four Pillars' other founding partners Matt Jones and Stuart Gregor.

Mr Mackenzie, who has been working in wineries in the Yarra Valley in Victoria, says: "We thought of tonic water because we were gin drinkers and there was a terrible selection of tonic water. That discussion lasted for only three weeks before we gravitated towards gin."

Two years ago, the trio embarked on a road trip to North America, driving 2,600km from Portland to Los Angeles and visiting numerous American boutique distilleries. It was part of their research to learn the art of distilling gin and to decide how they wanted to create a "modern Australian gin".

Says Mr Mackenzie: "We talked to chefs, bartenders, lots of distillers from around the world. I started distilling in a small lab at a space we leased at the back of a winery."

He experimented with 80 different botanicals in different concentrations and temperatures before arriving at the 10 botanicals used in their gin.

The rare dry gin's botanical blend includes juniper, cinnamon, star anise and lavenderas well as native lemon myrtle and Tasmanian mountain berries to infuse a little warmth in the spirit. What also sets the gin apart from others is the use of whole, fresh organic oranges.

Mr Mackenzie says the fruit are steamed in gin for seven hours in a copper still - named Wilma after his late mother - during the distilling process.

It takes about a month to make a batch of gin and only 450 bottles can be produced each time.

He says: "We didn't want to make a London dry gin even though we love it. We're not in London, we're in the Yarra, and we felt we could make a more modern style of gin."

The name Four Pillars represents the four key components of the gin, he adds: Wilma, the copper still used to distil the gin; the botanicals sourced from all over the world; the water, fresh out of the Yarra Valley; and the love of craft spirits and making something in small batches.

Diners at Tippling Club in Tanjong Pagar, Burnt Ends in Teck Lim Road, Moosehead Kitchen-Bar in Telok Ayer Street, South Coast Bistro & Bar at Marina Bay Sands and P.S. Cafe in Club Street may enjoy signature cocktails made using the gin.

They may also buy it by the bottle from wine and spirits retailer The Providore at a recommended retail price of $98 a bottle.

Mr Mackenzie says Four Pillars will launch a navy-strength gin (at a stronger 58.8 per cent alcohol by volume compared with the usual 41.8 per cent for its rare dry gin) and a batch of gin aged in chardonnay wine barrels, which is expected to be ready by the year's end.

Four Pillars is not the only Australian craft spiritmaker gaining international recognition.

Others include Starward Whisky, which took the title of Australasia's Best Single Malt at last year's World of Whisky Awards, and Sullivans Cove whisky, which was named the World's Best Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards this year.

Mr Mackenzie, who is married with children, says: "There is certainly interest in craft Australian spirits and no doubt we will see more in the future... one of the things we wanted to do was to create a category of craft spirits in Australia."

melk@sph.com.sg