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Three more days of quarantine and I will be a free man again. It’s early morning in the Moodie Davitt Interim Tung Chung Bureau and I’m settling in nicely to the Asian rhythm of life, some seven hours ahead of my former London operation.
Adapting to anywhere new, you need some creature comforts, of course, and some of those arrived this week in the form of a bottle of Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin. It came courtesy of Four Pillars Regional Trade & Global Travel Retail Director Mark Lawton in the currently lockdowned Australian state of Victoria.
Shiraz Gin? Really? Is all this Asian humidity making me get my drinks categories mixed up? No, it’s Four Pillars which is mixing them up, but in the most exhilarating manner. Four Pillars’ home is a town called Healesville in the Yarra Valley, an hour or so northeast of Melbourne. The cool climate Yarra Valley is synonymous with high-quality wine-making, notably some outstanding Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparklings.
You’ll find some household names here (Coldstream Hills, Domaine Chandon, DeBortoli, Yarra Yering) and an eclectic array of boutique producers, many with quirky names such as Thick as Thieves, Thousand Candles, Squitchy Lane, Innocent Bystander, Bird on a Wire (best drunk while listening to Leonard Cohen) and Boat O’Craigo. [Update: Long-time SSP executive Nick Inkster wrote to me after reading this Blog and said I should add one more name to both lists. “It’s one which should resonate well with you given your current adventures. Giant Steps. Great name, and great wines.” Thanks Nick.]
Unlike its Yarra Valley peers, Four Pillars does not make wine. But it uses wine. Every vintage it sources local Shiraz grapes and steeps them in gin for eight weeks. They’re then pressed to release a juice with the colour of, say, a Beaujolais nouveau (sorry to change country but it’s what the hue reminds me of); a bouquet that whirls like a tango of juniper and berries locked in embrace; and a flavour which while redolent of the richness of the grapes has that unmistakable aromatic piquancy of gin.
I tried it with tonic (with deference to COVID-19, it had to be Fever-Tree of course) to balance the sweetness and then I tried it straight. Gin straight? I tell you, well chilled and on the rocks (the gin, not me) it was a revelation. Tonight, to celebrate another day towards freedom, I’m going to try it straight from the freezer as I would drink a great Russian vodka.
I’ve always believed as a journalist that if you want to interest your reader you have to be interested in the story yourself. I’m fortunate to have found myself writing about an industry that features not just interesting stories but downright compelling ones. Four Pillars is a prime example.
I’m always keen to find the back story, as it were, that underpins products like Four Pillars Gin which a consumer perusing bottles on the shelf might simply take for granted. Who’s behind the brand? What is their production philosophy? Where did the name come from? And what about the product itself?
I haven’t got room to tell the full story in this Blog (you can check out the Four Pillars website here) but I can tell you that the name Four Pillars is nothing to do with a building but with the vital elements that go into the gin – great copper stills; pristine Yarra Valley water; a range of traditional, exotic and native botanicals; and a great big dollop of passion, professionalism and pride.
The company is just seven years old and was founded by three Aussie mates, Stuart Gregor, Cameron Mackenzie and Matt Jones. Six years later, and a whole lot of experimentation, fun and success down the line, it was named the world’s best gin producer. This berry-bursting beauty in front of me, which is just begging to be broached once more this evening, confirms why. Bloody Shiraz. Bloody beautiful. Bloody good.