When it launched seven years ago, Four Pillars was one of only a few homegrown gin brands in Australia. Fast forward to 2020, and the distiller is a global success and part of a booming and innovative Aussie gin scene – but it remains a front runner in the pack and a major driver of the popularity of Australian gin around the world.
We caught up with Four Pillars’ co-founders, Stuart Gregor and Cameron Mackenzie, to find out more about the brand’s journey and how it feels to be on top of the gin world Down Under.
Where did you both start out, and how did you get into gin making?
Cam – I worked in the wine industry for nearly 20 years from retail through to production. Weirdly I’m also an Olympian, having run in the 4x400m at the 1996 Atlanta Games, before I started working with Stuart in a wine business (Beringer Blass) on an Olympic scholarship in 1998. My running career went rapidly downhill after this initial encounter – I missed a spot in the 2000 Olympic team by one place – and Stuart has felt guilty ever since.
Stu – I’m a veteran of 20 years in the drinks business, and have helped launch and promote dozens of premium brands in wine, spirits and beer. My background also saw me author several wine guides, judge many wine shows and I considered myself quite the wine authority in the late 90s and early 2000s (not many folks shared this belief). For the best part of two decades I owned and ran Liquid Ideas, one of Australia’s most renowned consumer lifestyle communications and events agencies.
How did Four Pillars start? What are its goals as a brand?
Cam – It all began in 2013. The original plan was to make tonic, but that idea lasted about 72 hours… both Stu and I have always been gin drinkers and were looking for a new project after plenty of years in the wine industry. Our conversation about making tonic rapidly moved to making gin. It made sense and the more we looked into it the more obsessed we became. Through our obsession, we discovered the amazing craft distilling scenes that had been emerging over the last few years in the UK and US. We also learned that more than 90 per cent of the gin consumed in Australia was imported. We wanted to help change that. And looking back now I’m proud to see how far we’ve come with the rise of Australian-made gin!
Stu – We think Aussie gin is awesome because it’s the best of the New World with a hat tip to the old. Australian gin is like our food; it’s not deliberately wacky or obtuse – it just combines the best ingredients, know-how, creativity and traditions to make something uniquely Australian, modern and delicious. We want to spread the gospel about great Aussie craft spirits, and the sheer versatility and genius of gin throughout the world. Along the way we want to show off and celebrate a very contemporary face to this wonderful, diverse, creative and brilliant island continent of ours.
What inspires Four Pillars’ gins? Is there anything that drives the selection of and experimentation with new flavours?
Cam – We’ve always looked for a nice balance of purity and concentration. Rather than juniper being the huge over-arching botanical we tend to use it as a nice canvas. Our gins are still around 80 per cent juniper, but the other botanicals are strong enough to stand up – especially the native Aussie ones. We tend to make more modern styles than the classic London dry style. We love that style, but we felt there was more room to move if we change things up. My starting point is to think about the direction – citrus, floral, spice, savoury – then we build a recipe around that.
Tell us how Four Pillars Gin is made, start to finish.
Cam – We source the best botanicals from home and abroad. We make every bottle carefully and with love, in small batches, and we are always tooling about trying to make different, idiosyncratic, delicious gin-based products. So we now have five core gins, a range of barrel-aged gins and countless collaborative and experimental gins. Our botanicals are a pretty equal mix of local and exotic. The local botanicals include Tasmanian pepper berry and lemon myrtle, and the exotics include juniper, of course, plus cardamom, star anise and coriander seeds. Perhaps the most interesting is our use of whole oranges. It’s quite unusual to use fresh stuff in gin, but Australian citrus is highly aromatic and supports the spicier botanicals. Ultimately, it’s about trying to deliver the best of both worlds – a classic gin, and something that would fascinate and delight even the most hardened gin fanatic… something spicy with great citrus at the back.
Any new products in the pipeline?
Stu – We’re constantly experimenting with new flavours and combinations. Our Olive Leaf Gin – five years in the making – was the most recent launch and has proved a great success. We’re hoping to bring it to the UK around Easter 2021.
What is the Australian gin scene like today?
Stu – The Aussie distilling scene is red hot right now; there are more than 200 distilleries making gin and so many of them are absolutely world class. We have some incredible native ingredients like lemon myrtle, finger limes, Davidson plums, Tasmanian mountain pepper… the list just goes on and on. Aussie gins are growing faster, at almost double the pace of all other gins in a market where all gin is growing super fast. We get on with almost every distiller in the country really well – they’re a diverse bunch of passionate legends.
Give us your thoughts on the global craft gin boom – are we peaking yet?
Stu – I think, to be honest, in a global sense it has only just begun. In the USA for instance they have only just, in 2020, really started to discover gin and even then it’s just right at the top of the consumer tree. Gin has a long way to get in the mainstream in the USA – also in Asia and most of Europe. I think we can continue to have solid growth in the UK, while in Australia I reckon there is still plenty of opportunity. The gin boom is a long way from bust.
Explore the full Four Pillars range at www.fourpillarsgin.com.