DRIVING around the picturesque Yarra Valley, you can’t help feeling immersed in the world of wine, with vineyards and cellar doors at every turn. It is one of Australia’s most historic wine regions with more than 160 years of grape-growing under its soil. But there is something amiss that would surely see the region’s forefathers turning in their graves, with two former local wine identities ditching the grapes and firing up a German still in a quest to make Australia’s premier gin. The emergence of craft spirits such as the Yarra Valley’s Four Pillars and The West Winds Gin from Western Australia are part of a revolution under way across the country as microbreweries and the occasional distillery spring up to put long-needed spice back into our local drinks of choice. For the team behind Four Pillars in the Yarra Valley, it was a lack of quality Australian tonic water that first piqued their interest. But over a couple of G&Ts, the tonic water project was ditched and a desire to craft Australia’s finest gin emerged. But it would take three years before the general public would get a chance to sample their wares. First the team needed a shed. As fate would have it, space opened up at Rob Dolan Wines in the Yarra Valley, which is a source of pure, high-quality water, an essential ingredient in gin production. The crew of winemakers on site was a bonus and made for a willing team of trained tasters to evaluate numerous trial batches. At the heart of any crafted gin is its still, which through its shape and composition determines the character of the spirit – particularly the swan’s neck that draws up the purified spirit vapours from the base of the still. In search of the right still, two of the three business partners, Cameron MacKenzie and Stuart Gregor, hit the road from Portland to Los Angeles, meeting and tasting with some of America’s top craft distillers. And time and again, it was the German-made CARL stills that triumphed. The only problem was, there are only a handful of these stills made every year and the Australians would have to wait. Unperturbed, they placed the order and headed back to Australia to refine their recipe.
After visiting Cobram Estate during olive harvest we realised olive oil could be a brilliant botanical alongside olive leaf. The aroma, flavour and texture of fresh olive is stunning, and we did a year of trials before finalising the recipe for this gin. The botanicals include a big base of juniper with a savoury overlay of coriander seed, rosemary, olive leaf, olive oil, bay leaf, lemon myrtle, macadamia, orris root, and fresh lemon and grapefruit. Fresh ingredients were vapour infused while the others macerated in the pot.