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Spotlights and Deep-Dives

Four Pillars, Three Friends: Making Modern Australian Gin In Australia’s Wine Country

Distillery Spotlight: Four Pillars Distillery

Region: Melbourne, Australia

Note: Our Distillery Spotlight articles breaks down how each distillery's unique process results in the distinctive flavour profiles of their spirit. Click here to uncover the stories behind more of your favourite brands and distilleries.


“The world didn’t need another London Dry Gin made by three bald Australian blokes. We just thought there’s got to be more opportunity out there.”

Such was the thought process of Cam MacKenzie, reflecting on the early days when he and co-founders Stuart ‘Stu’ Gregory and Matt Jones were just starting up Four Pillars Distillery in 2013. Neither three of them had experience distilling gin before, but astutely sensing an incoming gin boom, thought to give it a try.

Fast forward ten years, and today Four Pillars Distillery has grown to be one of the most recognizable and respected contemporary gin brands, having been crowned the World’s Leading Gin Producer in 2019 and 2020. True to MacKenzie’s word, this Australian gin distillery based in Yarra Valley didn’t wind up making yet another London Dry Gin. Instead, Four Pillars is today known for making its own distinctively modern Australian Gin.

You may have seen or tried a few of them before yourself. Most prominently, the Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin, its first and most classic gin product that’s often defined by its crisp citrus notes and spicy undertones. Other popular releases that have earned the Australian gin brand more fans include the Bloody Shiraz Gin, which is (excuse the pun) bloody brilliant, and the Spiced Negroni Gin, designed to be a punchy addition to any Negroni cocktail.

What defines a characteristically Four Pillars gin? How did an unlikely gin distillery emerge from the heart of Australia’s wine country? And more importantly, which Four Pillars gins should you try next? Let’s find out in this Four Pillars distillery dive!

Four Pillars, Three Friends: How the Distillery Came To Be

Prior to establishing Four Pillars, co-founders Cam and Stu were both based in Yarra Valley and working in the wine industry. The two were friends for over 20 years, before Cam started itching for a new form of challenge – one that would allow him to be further away from the four walls of an office and get his hands dirty in production. The duo brainstormed ideas for new ventures outside winery management, even exploring the possibility of manufacturing soda or tonic water, before finally landing on the idea of distillation.

At that time, their decision to dabble in distilling was pretty unconventional. While Australia has a pretty long history of producing wines, there was less of industry surrounding distillation, and distilling licenses were hard to come by. (Today, of course, the scene has change, with not just gin but whisky producers like Starward and Archie Rose also adding to the list of distilleries down under.)

From left to right: Matt the Thinker, Stu the Drinker and Cam the Tinker. (Image source: Four Pillars)

Cam and Stu eventually connected with Matt, who pitched himself as a third partner in the business who would help map out the business’ strategy and branding. Under this arrangement, Cam would be in charge of the distillation process and creating the product. Stu, having already been running a successful PR communications firm, would be the mouthpiece of the brand, helping to establish partnerships and distributions. This fortuitous fit of responsibilities eventually gave rise to a nickname for each of the three co-founders: the Tinker (Cam), the Drinker (Stu), and the Thinker (Matt). 

Four Pillars kicked off to a start with the trio’s first still purchase – a German-made copper CARL still affectionately named “Wilma”. Cam experimented on Wilma for about three to four months before releasing their first batch of gin, which was effectively sold out in four days on a crowdfunding platform, earning them an addition $30,000 of cash flow to keep operations going.

Slowly but surely, Four Pillars began expanding its product lines and bagging awards. Very early on, the brand’s first product, the Rare Dry Gin, scored a coveted double gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. The distillery eventually also acquired new pot stills that help up production capacity, expanding retail sales throughout Australia before branching into international distribution.

(Image source: Four Pillars)

At some point in 2019, the trio sold a 50 per cent stake of Four Pillars to Lion, a beverage company (and subsidiary of Kirin) that owned a variety of beer brands including Tooheys, Little Creatures, Malt Shovel and Swan Brewery. Reflecting on the decision to sell the stake, Cam Mackenzie explained:

“What we could see on the horizon was our momentum was on a certain trajectory, but our profitability and our little war chest of funds was going to get chewed up pretty quickly. You’re faced with a decision, do you put a ceiling on your potential as a business and just hold your cards, and be a nice little profitable distillery, have a bit of fun, or do you go back to the original goal, which is, we want a global craft spirit.”

The new Four Pillars Distillery at Healesville. (Image credit: Four Pillars)

With added funds and support, Four Pillars Distillery has continued to grow as a brand, branching out from gin production to also offer lifestyle experiences. In 2022, they revamped and relaunched their Healesville Distillery at the price tag of $7 million to include not just distillery tours, but an indoor/outdoor gin garden, new event and function rooms to host tasting sessions and masterclasses, a Four Pillars Gin Shop and a new copper bar – more than tripling the area available for on-site visitors. They also have a physical presence in Sydney, where they operate a Gin Lab for gin workshops and Eileen’s Bar, a cocktail bar featuring gin based drinks and Made From Gin snacks.

What Defines Four Pillars’ Gin? A Look Into Its Process

The Four Pillars Distillery takes pride in several aspects of its process, and its these aspects that typically define the DNA of the various Four Pillars gins you may encounter. 

The Botanicals: A Modern Version of Australia

What’s interesting is that the team, while based in Australia, do not just confine themselves to using indigenous Australian botanicals, but also embrace ingredients from around the broader Asian region – perhaps reflecting a truly “modern” Australian gin befitting of the increasingly multi-cultural land down-under.

This is fairly unexpected, as in recent years you may have noticed that many emerging craft gin brands - especially those based out of the UK - face some degree of pressure to focus their botanicals on a confined locality to emphasize provenance as a marketing differentiating factor. Yet the team’s open-mindedness in this aspects allows them to create creative and unique combinations of flavors at Four Pillars. For example, pairing star anise from Vietnam, cubeb from Indonesia, green Szechuan peppers from China, and turmeric from Nepal, with native oranges, lemon myrtle, pepper berry and coriander from across Australia.

The whole oranges in their gin baskets (Image source: Four Pillars)

One of the star ingredients of the Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin is no doubt the use of whole oranges from Australia. When MacKenzie and the team were first creating with the Four Pillars botanicals blend, they had wanted to incorporate more soft citrus characteristics. They initial tested distilling dried orange peels, until a visiting German distiller from CARL, Dr Klaus Hagmann, came by to sample a test batch. Hagmann suggested using fresh citrus available all year round in Australia, which would bring a bright Mediterranean citrus character that is often detected in Four Pillars gins.

The Four Pillars Copper Stills (A.K.A. The Sisters) 

The Four Pillars Distillery in Yarra Valley is currently home to four distillation stills. Affectionately dubbed as the “Sisters”, all four are copper stills made by German manufacturer CARL. Specifically, the distillery uses column stills for its gin distillation, which are tall stills with separate chambers stacked upon on another.

This results in two effects. Firstly, unlike pot stills that operate on a per batch basis, column stills allow for continuous distillation, which helps any distillery drastically raise production of their spirits. Column stills also tends to produce a purer and cleaner spirit, as it consists of a series of plates that divides up separate chambers, within which the liquid condenses and re-condenses. This essentially results in a series of “mini-distillations” through each plate, purifying the liquid distillate multiple times over and resulting in a gin that is very high-proof (93.5% ABV) yet still very smooth.

To make Four Pillars’ mother sauce – the Rare Dry Gin – the distilling team first takes the dry botanicals in the Four Pillars blend and macerates it in neutral grain spirit. This liquid mixture is then distilled through the column stills. Before starting distillation, other botanicals, primarily the whole oranges, is hung in a gin basket above the liquid at the bottom of the pot. This allows the natural flavors and aromas of the whole oranges to be extracted and infused into the resultant distillate by the steam that passes through the gin basket during distillation – a process called vapor infusion.

After distillation, the 93.5% ABV distillate is diluted down with Yarra Valley’s famed pristine waters and rested for a few weeks before being bottled by the team.

What to Try from Four Pillars

  1. Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin 

A flagship gin from Four Pillars, Rare Dry Gin is a classic gin that pairs Asian botanicals with a light, refreshing Mediterranean citrus note derived from the use of whole fresh oranges and lemon myrtle. Pepper berries, cinnamon and cardamon add a touch of spice, completing this bottle of modern Australian gin. This was also the expression that bagged the distillery their first Double Gold award at the San Francisco World Spirits Award in 2014. It’s quality endures until today, with the bottle scoring Double Gold once again in 2016 and Gold in 2021.

You can purchase the Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin from Master of Malt (ships internationally).

  1. Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin

Another crowd favorite is the Bloody Shiraz Gin, made by steeping Rare Dry Gin in some of the finest shiraz grapes from Yarra Valley. No sugar is added, but the process nonetheless results in the gin taking on a deep magenta hue and the natural flavors and sweetness of the grapes. This expression became so popular that co-founder MacKenzie even mused that Four Pillars Distillery probably crushes more Shiraz grapes than most of the wineries in Yarra Valley. Imagine that!

To read our review of the Bloody Shiraz Gin, click here. You can purchase the Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin from Master of Malt (ships internationally). 

  1. Four Pillars Spiced Negroni Gin

For those who enjoy their Negronis, this gin was created specifically for use in this classic cocktail. Distilled with West African spice grains of paradise and Indonesian cubeb, the Four Pillars Spiced Negroni Gin is an extra punchy, aromatic, and weighty gin that cuts through the sweet vermouth and bitter Campari, adding complexity to the classic Italian cocktail.

You can purchase the Four Pillars Spiced Negroni Gin from Master of Malt (ships internationally).

Perhaps what’s equally interesting to fans of Four Pillars is not just their gin bottles itself, but the brand’s range of other “Made From Gin” products. This includes orange marmalade, made from the oranges that have been steamed in gin during the distillation, gin infused chocolate, and perhaps the most unlikely hit – gin pigs.

Yes, you heard that right. Free-range Black Berkshire pigs are fed Four Pillars’ botanicals, before being cooked up to be served at a variety of restaurants that Four Pillars collaborates with. These gin pig dinners have been running for some time now, and tickets are often booked out whenever a new shift is announced.

From its humble beginnings in Yarra Valley, Four Pillars has grown quickly to become a truly internationally recognised brand. While relatively young in the scene compared to other players like Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, and Gordons, the accolades that Four Pillars has accumulated along the way no doubt proves that these guys mean business. Yet, despite how far they've come, we love that at whatever ABV, every product and experience served up by the team at Four Pillars continues to be infused with just the right amount of playfulness and experimentation. We're certainly looking forward to more to come from this homegrown Aussie craft gin brand. 




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