Interview: Cameron Mackenzie, Four Pillars Distillery
Cameron Mackenzie bares a striking resemblance to Heston Blumenthal. Physical similarities aside, it’s his unbridled passion for unusual ingredients, quality products and a flair for experimentation that wouldn’t go unnoticed in the kitchen of The Fat Duck.
“I haven’t used any liquid nitrogen yet” there’s an easy laughter after Makers hints at a comparison to the boutique gin distiller, after we take part in a gin appreciation course and tasting at Mackenzie’s recently established Four Pillars distillery in the Yarra Valley.
Cameron, along with his two partners Stuart Gregor and Matt Jones officially founded Four Pillars late last year with the aim of making a modern Australian gin, although the dream was a long time in the making. It was a quest undertaken after long time gin enthusiasts Mackenzie and Gregor both ordered G&Ts in a bar and were shocked to see a boutique brand of the alcohol topped up with tonic water from a post mix gun.
Mackenzie: “We started to think about producing tonic waters, this rapidly shifted to gin. I spent the next 12 months researching everything I could find, from that initial tonic water conversation our journey has taken 3 and a half years and we launched our first batch in November of last year”
Mackenzie speaks with a confidence that makes his journey into the blossoming world of craft spirits seem relatively simple, although in truth establishing Four Pillars as a boutique distillery took a lot of work and years of preparation for the three business partners - There were road trips to the USA to visit a number of small American producers and most importantly, the commissioning of a bespoke CARL still from Germany, bearing the moniker of Mackenzie's mother Wilma. “Our golden rule from day one was that if we’re going to do it, we were doing it properly. For us it was all or nothing.” He states emphatically, grinning from ear to ear.
From the Dutch introducing the spirit to England during the 1600s, through to the bathtub gin produced during America’s prohibition era, James Bond’s requests for his to be “shaken, not stirred” and Snoop Dogg’s 1993 release ‘Gin and Juice’, you’d be hard pressed to find a liquor with a past as colourful as the juniper based spirit – and although it was once relegated as the tipple of choice for the grey rinse set, the popularity of gin is once again on the rise here in Australia.
In fact, over the past five years, our gin consumption has risen nearly 50% across most age groups with the highest growth is seen in those aged between 18-24. And with the number of boutique distilleries in Australia on the rise, consumers are quickly becoming spoilt for choice and quality.
One of the key points that help set Four Pillars apart from the rest of the local boutique gin pack is Mackenzie’s passion for experimenting with an unusual blend of ingredients; including a rare mix of Australian botanicals. On their mission to invent the perfect Australian gin, he and his partners consulted some of the countries best-known chefs; asking them what they thought made up modern Australian cuisine. They quickly came to the conclusion that their gin should include a blend of Asian, Mediterranean and native ingredients. The end result is a fresh and tangy spirit with a dry citrus finish. Perfect with Tonic, or in Mackenzie’s favourite cocktail; the Negroni.
Each limited edition batch produced on the site of the former Hardies Yarra Burn winery is a considered mix of European Juniper, Guatemalan Cardamom, Australian Coriander, Cinnamon, Star Anise, Tasmanian native pepper, Lemon Myrtle, lavender and locally sourced organic oranges.
Mackenzie: “We’ve got some of the most unusual and beautiful botanicals in the world and I don’t think it’ll be long before we see distilleries overseas using Australian ingredients.”
And while both local and international distilleries may soon start taking a leaf out of the Four Pillars book and start distilling with a variety of Aussie ingredients, the one thing they’d be hard pressed to match is the passion and love that goes into each one of Mackenzie’s bottles. “Love is our fourth pillar” he says with a smile, and it’s evident that he means every word.
Four Pillars open day Saturday, 6 September: Bookings through Eventbrite