Four Pillars Gin distiller Cameron Mackenzie on taking Australian gin global: Season Three, Episode One

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For this opening episode of Season Three, I caught up with Four Pillars Gin head distiller Cameron Mackenzie at its distillery in Healesville, Victoria.

Founded by Cameron, Matt Jones and Stuart Gregor, Four Pillars has continually doubled its sales year on year since launching in 2013.

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The company expects to sell 500,000 bottles of its gin globally in 2019, with distribution in 30 different markets.

This rapid growth did not go unnoticed by some of the drinks industry’s larger players.

In early 2019, Four Pillars sold a 50 per cent stake in its business to brewer Lion, the company behind XXXX, Tooheys, Little Creatures and myriad other Australian beer brands.

Four Pillars Gin head distiller Cameron Mackenzie
Four Pillars Gin head distiller Cameron Mackenzie

Follow James Atkinson on Facebook here, Instagram here and Twitter here.

Theme music ‘Sandbox’ by Rudists.

More on gin:
Bloody Shiraz Gin is opening doors for Four Pillars, distiller says
Gin without juniper is flavoured vodka, says Sipsmith’s Fairfax Hall
Beefeater Gin master distiller Desmond Payne MBE

Four Pillars Gin distiller Cameron Mackenzie on taking Australian gin global: Full transcript

James Atkinson: Cam, thanks so much for joining me on the Drinks Adventures podcast.

Cam Mackenzie: Absolute pleasure, James. Good to be here.

James Atkinson: When I was just sitting downstairs I was reading a little bit of background about Four Pillars and it sort of struck me there’s still quite a few things that I don’t know about the business. Being in Sydney, I’ve obviously had a fair bit to do with Stu, but never met you before and I don’t know about the third co-founder. How did the three of you come together to launch the brand?

Cam Mackenzie: Well, first let me apologise for anything Stu has said and done in the past. We do that a lot in this business. Stu and I have been mates for … We worked it out and just recently. We’ve been mates for 20 years. He and I met in the wine industry 20 years ago. I was an athlete trying to make the Sydney Olympic Games as a 400 metre runner. I’d come back from the Atlanta Olympics in ’96. I ran in the four by four relay, and I was quite keen to try and make the Sydney team.

Cam Mackenzie: The problem with that was that somewhere in the middle I met Stu. I think if you put my athletic career on a graph and my career in the wine industry or in the alcohol industry on a graph, the point at which the athletic career plummeted and the booze career took off, is the exact day I think I met Stu. We just became really great mates working in the wine industry together. We worked for, at the time it was called Beringer Blass, which I guess went on to become Treasury Wine Estates.

Cam Mackenzie: I had been working out at a winery called Yarra Ridge and St Huberts with Rob Dolan and over time just sort of moved further and further away from getting my hands dirty, and being in production, to more winery management, which I loved, but I kind of always was at my happiest, wandering around dragging hoses, and tasting things, and crushing fruit, and filling barrels. Over time, I guess I’ve just got too far away from that. Then Stu and I just were chatting one day about what the opportunities were out there to maybe do something outside of wine.

Cam Mackenzie: At the time we actually thought tonic water. Going back seven or eight years ago in Australia, it was really just Schweppes and Kirks. There was no Fever-Tree, or Capi, or East Imperial, or any interesting things happening in that space. I looked into it pretty heavily, but to be honest, the reason we balked at it was I couldn’t build a soft drink factory. I’d have to have it all made under contract, in which case I was back behind a desk and I wasn’t getting my hands dirty again.

Cam Mackenzie: We kind of walked away from it. As it turns out, looking at the success of Fever-Tree, that may well have been a very good dog to back, but we kind of revisited it and said, “Well maybe we should have a look at at distilling instead.” I think the reason we hadn’t done that is it was really hard to get a license back then. There wasn’t a great knowledge bank for distilling in Australia because we didn’t have much of an industry. We sort of persevered, but from making that decision to actually opening and launching the first gin took us nearly two years. I think it was about 22 months from that decision to launch.

Cam Mackenzie: Matt Jones, who is the third partner in the business, Matt came about because I think Stu and I were quite conscious that we wanted this to be a really proper, serious business. A business we could have a huge amount of funding, a business we could be quite creative in, but we didn’t want it to be a folly. It was particularly important to me because I was quitting a job, and a mortgage, wife, three kids, it was a fairly daunting thing to go and do. Stu had a great PR communications business in Sydney that he owned and was running. It was quite successful.

Cam Mackenzie: Matt came in originally to sort of write that strategy, tell us what the opportunities were and pitched to us that maybe he should be the third partner, and we just thought that was a great idea. The three of us have worked together ever since and we’re really close mates and I don’t know, still having a huge amount of fun.

James Atkinson: What did Matt bring to the trio?

Cam Mackenzie: Matt very much sets what I say is the language of the business. Matt will brief designers, he will brief social media content, brief website content. He’s incredibly creative, very, very strategic. He times and plans things very, very well. I always laugh and say that I make gin, Stu makes noise and Matt makes sense. You know, the tinker, the thinker and the drinker, this is how the three of us have always worked. The three of us bounce off each other very well.

Cam Mackenzie: I think it’s a unique trio to have in a business, to have someone who has a solid background in production and scaling production, someone who’s fantastic at relationships, fantastic at trade media communications, also incredibly creative individual and then have this third person who’s crucial to our business, setting that language and making sure we don’t miss opportunities. He’s got this great ability to kind of stay small but think big. We always wanted to try and build more of a global Australian made spirit rather than a cottage spirit and they both have their place.

Cam Mackenzie: There’s a fantastic opportunity for tiny distilleries to sell at farm gate and sell into their local town or their local city. That wasn’t what we were trying to do. We wanted to be able to build a business and see our products on the shelf around the world, because you do with wine, you do even with beer, but for some reason Australian spirits has never really taken off. We thought that was something that be righted with a bit of hard work.

James Atkinson: When you set out to create your first product, Rare Dry Gin, it’s obviously the engine room of the Four Pillars business, were you trying to make something that was uniquely Australian, or were you trying to make something that was fairly classical? Was it a sort of a bridging the gap between those two things?

Cam Mackenzie: Yeah, look, I reckon early on we talked more about what we didn’t want to make versus what we did want to make. We didn’t want to make London Dry Gin. All of us could see what was happening with gin in the UK. I don’t think even we couldn’t predict at the time what has happened. We knew there was growth, but there’s extreme growth there. We just thought even at the time, 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.

Cam Mackenzie: That was where Matt’s sort of strategic document to ask to talk about, what that opportunity was, was gin didn’t innovate. It didn’t create anything for probably 30 or 40 years from the ’60s when vodka hit, through to Bombay Sapphire. It’s probably the late nineties where we started to see things change in gin, better marketing of gins, slightly different styles, you know, Tanqueray 10, ultimately Hendrick’s, and it changed the way people were starting to think.

Cam Mackenzie: We said straight up, “Let’s not make London Dry Gin. The opportunity is to make a more contemporary style of gin, a more modern style of gin.” Then we sort of talked about Australia and Australian gin. The first thing we sort of said was, “Well, Australia is part of Asia, so that seems ridiculous to try and make an Australiana gin.” That again might be relevant to someone, but it wasn’t sort of what we felt was the opportunity. We felt the opportunity was modern Australia.

Cam Mackenzie: What’s modern Australia? We started to have these great discussions. We’d look at menus, we’d talked to chefs, to artists. I was really fortunate to work in the Yarra Valley through that period when wine makers out here realised, you know what, we can’t make burgundy. We can make Yarra Valley Chardonnay, and we can make Yarra Valley Pinot, but we’re not in Burgundy, so let’s stop trying to make burgundy and make these incredible regional wines. We didn’t go through any sort of cultural cringe with Four Pillars.

Cam Mackenzie: We said, “Let’s just make a modern Australian gin, which is taking botanicals and ingredients from around the world, but also using some really interesting native stuff as well.” That was sort of, I guess how we arrived at Rare Dry Gin. That recipe took 18 months to fine tune, and tweak, and calibrate, a lot of that during our sort of breaking bad phase with a little glass lab still. Then when Wilma, our first CARL still arrived, I still used that for about three and a half, four months, making gin before we had the guts to actually release that gin.

James Atkinson: Had you got any background in distilling or were you basically just taking your wine making background and then learning how to distill?

Cam Mackenzie: Exactly that. Taking a production background and learning how to distill. I’m still to this day terrified of it. It’s not wine making, it’s not brewing, it’s distilling and ethanol and alcohol vapour is a very dangerous thing. That was the bit I was most terrified of. It wasn’t making gin, it wasn’t an inability to get the flavours right. I think if you come from a food background, you come from a wine background, flavour, balance, weight, texture, are things that come pretty naturally to you.

Cam Mackenzie: For me, it was safety. I spent a lot of my time researching distilling, talking more about safety and how not to blow up, than actually recipe creation. I was never particularly worried about it. We’re pretty transparent here. We got a lot of people coming in who want to start distilleries and we want to build an industry in Australia, so we’re incredibly transparent. It amazes me the number of people that come in and want to start talking about bloody Lemon Myrtle. I sit there and look at them and say, “Well, what about the power, the water? What are you gonna do with your effluent? Do you know anything about safety? Let’s go five steps back and let’s talk about that, and these are the questions you need to be asking because Lemon Myrtle, we can talk about that later on. That’s the fun bit of distilling.”.

Cam Mackenzie: Yeah, I didn’t have a distilling background. I had a production background, I understood it. I just want it to be properly safe and made sure as we grew that we were properly safe and all our team was safe.

James Atkinson: Now, tell me about the recipe you’d ended up settling on for Rare Dry Gin because it is from my understanding, still quite a juniper-forward gin, importantly.

Cam Mackenzie: Yeah. One of the pivotal things for Stu and I, was a road trip we did from Portland, Oregon, to Los Angeles. Somehow convinced our wives it was research and development, and we just visited distilleries every day for about two weeks, driving down the West Coast. What was amazing to us, was at the end of the day, we would often have a bit of a chat about some of the products we’d tasted and some of the gins. We’d arrive at a gin and we’d say, “You know what, that was a really good drink, but it wasn’t gin. It didn’t have enough juniper, you know, it didn’t have that discernible juniper character.” Whilst it’s modern and it’s contemporary, it’s flavoured vodka.
Cam Mackenzie: We want it to be gin. Where we arrived at with Rare Dry Gin is the base of juniper is still about 80% of the botanical base on that. It exceeds London Dry Gins’ juniper requirement quite substantially, but it doesn’t smell or taste anything like London Dry Gin, so we’ve never called it that. I’ve never entered into anything as that. It’s unashamedly modern and contemporary. We have a big, big canvas of juniper that is hugely important to us.

Cam Mackenzie: Coriander, which is the second most used botanical in gin globally, we use some Australian coriander, but we don’t use a huge amount of it. It’s very citrus based coriander. When you grind it up, it’s actually quite bright and quite lemony. We’ve got other great forms of citrus that we can use. We use a bit of coriander for some earthiness. We use some green cardamom from Guatemala, some cassia from India, some star anise from Vietnam, a little bit of lavender, which we use to help lift aromatics, a little bit of angelica as a fixative and a binder.

Cam Mackenzie: The two native botanicals we use in that gin, the leaf of the Tasmanian pepperberry, very pesto green tea, white pepper, lemon myrtle, which I think is probably the botanical that will put Australian gin on the map. Hopefully that’s Four Pillars, but I suspect a Tanqueray, or a Bombay Sapphire, or someone will start using lemon myrtle as one of their exotic botanicals. Then the last one was an interesting one. We were using dried orange peel in our test batches and I particularly hated it. It just had this marmaladey kind of advanced candied character, and we couldn’t get our head around it at all.

Cam Mackenzie: We wanted some soft citrus, we wanted some orange, but it just wasn’t the character that we wanted. A German distiller from CARL, who make our stills, a guy called Dr. Klaus Hagmann, because if you’re going to be a German distiller, that is the name you would want, Klaus came and visited me as we were fine tuning. He agreed that that was all wrong, that that dried peel, and kind of incredulously just said to me, “I don’t understand you. Why wouldn’t you just use fresh citrus? You’re Australian, you can get for citrus all year round.”

Cam Mackenzie: As it turns out we can get organic unwaxed oranges for pretty much 12 months of the year. That changed everything. That changed the entire dynamic of that gin, that lovely bright Mediterranean sort of orange character is unmistakably different to using peel, which is more advanced and weirdly more London Dryish in its profile. Those were the 10 botanicals that we sort of narrowed it down to. After distilling about 93, 94 botanicals, we distilled it down to 10.

James Atkinson: That’s still by far the biggest part of the Four Pillars business?

Cam Mackenzie: Yeah, I’d say probably 85% of our time here is Rare Dry Gin. It’s our non vintage champagne, you know, that’s the gin. We also … Part of that brief was to be able to make that gin seven days a week, 365 days a year, so I needed to make sure all of those ingredients were available all the time. There’s no point in us using an ingredient that’s available three weeks of the year. That was very much part of the brief for that. That gin is also incredibly important to us because we use a lot.

Cam Mackenzie: I use it in our barrel ageing program. It’s the basis of Bloody Shiraz Gin, I use a little bit of it in Christmas Gin. It’s kind of more than just Rare Dry Gin. It’s our highest selling gin. I’m not supposed to choose one of my kids as a favourite, but that one is for me, my go to of our gins. Yeah, it’s been super consistent and continues to do really well.

James Atkinson: How was the Bloody Shiraz Gin conceived, because that looks to have been a bit of a masterstroke?

Cam Mackenzie: Yeah, I think a lot of our experiments never see the light of day, which is a good thing, but this was one where again, gin didn’t innovate. I didn’t create anything for that big, big, long period of time when I was growing up. When I was in my early twenties, gin was my mom’s drink, my grandmother’s drink. It didn’t change. What we found was people kept asking us when we were going to make a sloe gin. I kept scratching my head saying, “Well, I hate almost every sloe gin I’ve ever tasted.” I don’t like Marzipan, and often those sloe gins will pick up a bit of a Marzipan character. I don’t like adding sugar to things. I barely add sugar to anything when I’m cooking, and to make slow gin, you have to add a bucket load of sugar, because sloe berries are so acidic, and we don’t really grow sloes.

Cam Mackenzie: I started asking people who would ask me, “When are you gonna make a sloe gin?,” I’d say, “Well, which one do you drink and how do you drink it?” People would say, “Oh, I’ve never actually had one. I’ve just heard of it.” It was kind of almost just a default question. We said, “Well, that’s not enough for us to go and make a sloe gin.” Truthfully, we did make one, we never released it. It was as revolting as I thought it would be. We were based at a winery, we had a background in wine and during vintage we just happened to get our hands on a small parcel of fruit that had come through from a grower, Rob Dolan, where we were based. Kind of went, look, I really don’t know what to do with such a small parcel. It was only about 250 kilos.

Cam Mackenzie: I kind of appropriated it from him and de-stemmed it, tipped high proof Rare Dry gins, straight out of the still. It comes out of our stills at about 93% ABV. I tipped that over the grapes, so there’s no fermentation, there’s no barrels. It’s Shiraz grapes. That alcohol bleeds the colour, the flavour, the sweetness out of the grapes. We let it sit for between six and eight weeks. These days we do two harvests in the vineyard. We pick quite early to get pepper spice, you know, white pepper and red berries, and then we pick a little bit later to give us more colour, more darker fruit flavours. We press it off, the grape juice brings the ABV down, and we add more gin and get it up to 37.8. It just worked. We don’t add sugar, we don’t add colour.

Cam Mackenzie: The reason we just kept adding gin to it is when we pressed it the first time, it tasted delicious and it smelled amazing, but it was just fortified grape juice. Well, we want to be a gin distillery. We said, “No, we’ve got … just add more gin until we taste and smell gin.” We just kept adding gin and when it got to about 37% we said, “Hey, now it smells and tastes like gin. So we’ll just bottle it at that, 37.8.” Their cabernet didn’t work. It was too herbaceous. Merlot didn’t work. It was a bit weird.

Cam Mackenzie: I’m too Scottish to buy Pinot Noir, so that was never going to work, but Shiraz out here is a work horse. It’s the perfect variety for what we wanted to do. In a cold vintage, you get spicy, bright, medium bodied Shiraz. In a hot vintage, you get darker fruits, black pepper. Wet vintage, it deals with it. Hot vintage, it deals with it. It’s just the perfect variety for what we wanted. To go from 250 kilos, this year we did just north of a hundred tons, and I still think we’ll run out. It’s been a quite a journey with that little gin.

James Atkinson: Stu told me awhile ago that he’s crushed a lot more Shiraz to make gin than he ever did as a wine maker.

Cam Mackenzie: There’s that, but that also is a very clear reflection on the wines that Stu and I made. We’re much better making Shiraz Gin than we were making wine. Yeah, I actually think it’s probably only De Bortoli’s in the Yarra Valley that would crush more Shiraz than us. I think we are certainly crushing more Shiraz than most of the wineries out here. I can’t think of anyone who would crush more than a hundred tons of Shiraz for their own use. Next year, if I can get my hands on it, we’ll probably do 120, 130 tons.

James Atkinson: You’ve obviously started expanding overseas, well probably been happening for a few years now, but what’s been the reaction to products like that, that are really, really uniquely Australian, but not just uniquely Australian, they make a real regional statement about the Yarra valley as well?

Cam Mackenzie: Yeah, it’s been phenomenal actually. It’s a huge opportunity for us as we continue to grow. We’ve got nearly 30 export markets now. None of them particularly huge, but it’s a really interesting footprint. As the bar scene is growing and people are taking their gin lists more and more seriously, you can’t ignore Australia. There’s so much going on down here. We’re known as a country of innovation, a country of produce, so with Rare Dry Gin, certainly, yeah, we’ve had great interest in that, and sales are quite strong.

Cam Mackenzie: When we released Bloody Shiraz Gin, it was suddenly very, very different because it’s not something a lot of countries can easily replicate. The UK at the moment is a tsunami of gin brands, but they can’t do a Shiraz gin. They don’t grow Shiraz. If they do, the English wine scene is probably more sparkling based. It’s a very hard one for someone to come in and do. flavoured gin appears to be a huge opportunity. I think that’s probably something you’re going to see more and more distilleries doing, whether it’s sloes, or whether it’s rhubarb, or strawberry or whatever, flavoured gin is certainly something that’s taking off.

Cam Mackenzie: I think what seems to work really well for us in those markets is, it’s a product that’s an absolute genuine product. It’s a gin, it’s relevant, it’s got a great story to it. It’s got a great background to it. It’s not an opportunistic gin that that we’ve made, and just to fill a gap. It’s actually a really great gin to drink. Watching bartenders play with it has been amazing. In a way, I think that’s probably the gin that will open doors for us on the export market.

Cam Mackenzie: The problem for us is going to be making enough of it to do that because I want to keep it flowing in Australia before it goes anywhere else. We’ve got little allocations of it overseas and the reaction’s been amazing. Really, really cool.

James Atkinson: Can you notice much vintage variation between the different releases of the Bloody Shiraz?

Cam Mackenzie: Yeah, they’re more subtle now. I think in 2017, fruit out here, it wasn’t a big year for colour out here. It was quite a cloudy vintage, so we didn’t get huge colour development in vineyards. We picked all the fruit at once. We soaked it, it didn’t matter how long we soaked it. It was quite a Pale Shiraz Gin, despite the fact that the sweetness level was pretty much the same as the previous year. It was peppery and spicy. It tasted amazing, but you could hold up the bottle and pretty much see through it.

Cam Mackenzie: The feedback was, everyone loves it and it still sold out because we didn’t make that much of it, but people were starting to say, “Ah, they’re pushing it a bit now. They’re making too much of it. You can see it in the colour.” We said, “Well, that’s actually got nothing to do. We didn’t even look at colour.” We said, “Okay, I think there’s some vintage trends that we can iron out ourselves to get a slightly more consistent product, but still have a couple of little vintage variants.” By doing the two harvests and picking quite early, we get that lovely spice and red berry, and then picking quite late we get more colour and sort of dark berry flavours. You’d still get a big variation in spice.

Cam Mackenzie: What we’re seeing is less variation in colour and sweetness now. The biggest thing will be spice. I think the benchmark for us was 2018, 2019. Those two gins that just have been so consistent, that’s the quality we want to keep it out going forward.
James Atkinson: Many of the distilleries, gin distilleries in Australia ultimately have ambitions of releasing whiskey and gin is kind of like, it’s a purely … a financially driven thing. Do you think that it’s been an important element of Four Pillars’ success that you’ve just focused on doing one thing and doing it really well?

Cam Mackenzie: Yeah, look for us, there’s no doubt that’s the case. We said when Matt did that original strategic sort of two pager and it was very casual, it wasn’t a heavy hitting document, it was just stating the obvious to us to be honest, and he was the one who said, “You’ve just got to concentrate on gin. Just do it well, and there’s so much room to move within gin. So many different flavours that you can play with I’m sure.” He kind of left that up to me.

Cam Mackenzie: I think just being able to concentrate on that, that was then confirmed when we did that road trip through the U.S., because we’d go to so many distilleries and we’d walk out saying, “Gee, that gin was amazing, but I didn’t really like their rye or their vodka was pretty harsh, but their absinthe was good, or whatever,” but it was rare that we walked out of a distillery and said, “I loved all six of those spirits.” Whereas here, I think by concentrating on gin, there’s variants within it, but people generally have walked away enjoying our gin. That’s been a huge advantage to us to display within the category like that.

James Atkinson: Obviously a few months ago you made the decision to sell a percentage of the business. Was that something that you thought was on the cards when you launched? Was it part of the plan or how did that evolve?

Cam Mackenzie: Yeah, look, it certainly wasn’t really part of the plan. I guess we hoped that we would have success at some point and we didn’t really know what success looked like to be honest. Success for me was just being able to pay my mortgage and have a sustainable job and grow. What we found over time was we had such momentum and we continue to have such great momentum. We’ve never taken any shortcuts with anything, not in production, not in any of our branding, absolutely nothing. We’ve invested and invested and invested. Business suddenly was profitable earlier than I think any of us thought it would be and we weren’t taking anything out of the business.

Cam Mackenzie: We were just putting money back in, back in, back in. We have an amazing group of ginvestors on board, an incredible group of friends and family who supported us early on. 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.

Cam Mackenzie: The three of us would … never anything on the same page that, no, we want to global craft spirit. All of our little investors were on board saying, “This is just so much fun. Let’s just keep going with that. We want to see the growth.” They were getting a kick out of going on holiday somewhere and finding a bottle of gin in a bar, in the UK or something. It was amazing. Whilst we weren’t really looking for that investment, we knew at some point we probably had to address it. As Stu would say, “We were invited to the dance by quite a few companies,” and that was a really interesting discussion too if I can say, because they’re not discussions I’m used to.

Cam Mackenzie: A few of those companies wanted to fix us, which I thought was hilarious because I didn’t feel we were broken. You could see that they were looking at some of our projects that are not profitable. You know, we’re not making money out of gin pigs or marmalade or things like that. We do it because we have a genuine, you know, fun thing to do there. Why wouldn’t you reuse all your oranges and make Marmalade? Why wouldn’t you feed botanicals to pigs and do gin pig dinners? It was fun for us and it’s been an important part of our sustainability as a business.

Cam Mackenzie: You could kind of see that would be the first thing that would go if we partnered with the wrong partner. When Lion approached us, I think we walked out of the first meeting saying, “Well that’s the most sense we’ve heard in 18 months and we didn’t think it would be, because it’s a beer company,” but they were very much, “Look, we want to continue your momentum. We want to help you continue it. We’re not trying to take you away from the steering wheel. It’s important that you guys stay in this business and keep doing what you’re doing. What we want to do is partner with you and invest with you so that you can continue to grow. You can build this property next door.”

Cam Mackenzie: We’ve been very fortunate in this site in Healesville, which has been an absolute revelation for the business. Having a a bar and a distillery that’s open seven days a week from a tourism point of view, we’re going to get 80 or 90 thousand people through the doors this year. We’ve managed to acquire the property next door now, which we will knock over next year. This partnership with Lion allows us to now continue to develop the footprint of this business in production, in tourism, hospitality. That’s been a massive, massive relief for us as well.

Cam Mackenzie: Has it changed the business? Not one bit. In a way where I see the great potential for us and where the guys at Lion really came to help us out, are things like compliance, safety, OH&S, a bit of HR stuff, things that we’ve done okay at, but because we grew so rapidly, we probably haven’t done as well at, you know, procurement, these sorts of things. We’ve just been thinking on the fly. We can kind of go to them and ask their advice, but they are in no hurry to be ringing us to tell me to make a cheesecake gin or something. That’s just of no interest to them.

Cam Mackenzie: What they want to do is see the culture of the business, the innovation of the business continue to grow and the quality of the products to remain consistent.
James Atkinson: Presumably they’re opening up some new channels for you as well?

Cam Mackenzie: Look, interestingly, they’re not … From a distribution point of view, they’ve actually partnered with our national distributor, with Vanguard Luxury Brands as well, but outside of that, they’re not big exporters, Lion. They don’t do a huge amount overseas. Again, that ball is in our court to select our importers and work with those partners. Where they’re helpful is helping us discuss those contracts, discuss those deals. They’re really interesting. They’re kind of a very handy big brother for us and a great resource for us to bounce ideas off, but they are in no hurry to jump into the business and start trying to change anything, which is great.

Cam Mackenzie: I guess rightly, we were probably a little bit concerned by it, but we’re now what, six or seven months in, and no, there’s just nothing. It’s been great, business as usual.

James Atkinson: You mentioned that the sideline that you’re having, making these gin related consumer goods is, you know, there’s no profit in that, but you’re sort of investing in the building as a business now? Aren’t you?

Cam Mackenzie: Oh absolutely. Distilling is not the most sustainable industry in the world. We use a lot of power, use a lot of water, a lot of ingredients, so I think if we can soften our footprint in any way, it’s a positive thing. What I’d like to do is over the next 12 to 18 months, pretty much become almost a zero waste business from a distilling point of view. We have a program called Made from Gin, and it started out really with marmalade. Every week here we end up with tens of kilos of gin steamed oranges because of the use of fresh organic oranges. You haven’t lived until you’ve eaten half an orange that’s been steamed in gin for five hours. Why would we throw that on the garden or throw it in general waste if it makes the world’s best marmalade? It’s kind of the circle of life.

Cam Mackenzie: There’s only so much in my garden that I can tip botanicals on, so we needed to find a home for that. We’ve got a mate out here who’s a pig farmer. He has rare breed Berkshire pigs. He’s now doing gin pigs and about to sort of continue to grow that business. He’s going to sell his gin pigs into various butchers and restaurants. We did our 20th gin pig dinner in Sydney on Wednesday night, at One Penny Red. We work with restaurants and shifts and kind of celebrate cocktails and gin pigs. Matt Wilkinson from Pope Joan in Melbourne, we’ve actually hired a chef without a kitchen, which is hilarious to me, but his job is to really work with our front made from gin products. He’s got a number of things planned over the next 12 or 18 months, whether that’s working with other chefs for gin pig dinners or creating a couple of little products that he’s playing with as well that we can continue that.

Cam Mackenzie: Ideally, I’d just love to make sure that anything that comes on site isn’t just turned into gin. It’s turned into gin and something else that’s useful. I think we worked it out last week. We’ve done nearly 60 thousand jars of marmalade since we started the business. It’s a local girl here, Caroline Gray, who makes it and she uses a little four litre copper pot on her stove and she’s made nearly 60 thousand jars of marmalade. That’s great, we love it. I think it’s a really, really fun little side project for all of us, but it’s coming almost a major project within the business.

James Atkinson: What else is coming up from an innovation point of view?

Cam Mackenzie: Look, there’s a whole lot of things that we’re playing with all the time. We’ve got this little still up here. It’s a little CARL still that’s 75 litres and it will make about 30 or 40 bottles of gin as good as their production stills. We’re constantly looking at new botanicals. We’ve also had a really great program of collaborations, whether that’s with chefs or bartenders or other distilleries. We did one a couple of years ago in Madrid. We made a gin with Santamania distillery.

Cam Mackenzie: Three guys who started the distillery in Madrid making gin, really just great guys. We made a gin using some Australian botanicals and some Spanish botanicals called Cousin Vera’s Gin. They’ve since been out and made gin with us. We started this sort of collaborative thing. The most recent one we did was with Herno in the north of Sweden, which are probably my favourite gins in the northern hemisphere. I think what John and those guys are making is just incredible, pure, clean, concentrated gin. We took some … Well he came out here originally. He managed to get some Meadowsweet out to Australia, which was great.

Cam Mackenzie: Then we use some native botanicals and some traditional botanicals. Last year we went to the north of Sweden with our families, made gin with him, smuggled the Australian botanicals in the kids’ luggage. It’s much easier to do it that way. No one is looking at a Dora the Explorer suitcase. That was a huge amount of fun. Then this year we’re doing one with Kyoto distillery that make the KI NO BI gin. Alex is coming out here in October from Kyoto distillery and we’re going to make some gin here.

Cam Mackenzie: Then next year we’ll head over to Japan and make some gin with him. We’re going to continue those sorts of programs. We’ll release our Sticky Carpet Gin in towards the end of September, which we made with the SB hotel in St Kilda, a bit of an iconic Melbourne pub. We made a gin … It was deliberate. It took a while to make actually. It was quite a deliberately pubby kind of feel to it. We used some roasted dark stout as part of the base alcohol. We used some hops, some roasted barley as botanicals. We made quite a maltyish style of gin, so we’re going to release that. There’s lots of little projects that pop up from time to time in our newsletters or at the distillery door here. Otherwise we’re just head down, tail up. Just keep making gin.

James Atkinson: Been a fascinating chat. I think we can leave it there. Thanks so much for your time, Cam.

Cam Mackenzie: Mate, thanks so much for having me. I hope we covered everything off.

Author: James Atkinson

Accomplished freelance journalist and copywriter specialising in the food, drink, travel and hospitality arenas. Australian International Beer Awards 2017 Media Award Winner and Certified Cicerone®. Founder Drinks Adventures podcast.

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