Gin is my all time favourite alcoholic beverage. A summers day isn’t complete with a gin and tonic and our gin collection is currently pushing the kitchen storage in our little apartment well beyond its limits.
Given its popularity today, especially served with a classic tonic, would it surprise you to know that gin was once primarily the drink of sailors and the navy? So loved was it that the English Royal Navy mandated that every vessel must have a certain amount of gin, and sailors would receive it as part of their rations. It was a navy Doctor too who gave us the gin and tonic, advising sailors to ward off scurvy with quinine. The ever enterprising sailors mixed the quinine with their gin ration and my favourite beverage was born. Now there’s countless gins to try and tonics to pair them with!
Four Pillars is a relatively recent player in the Australian gin market, but has been popping up time and time again at cool places and bottle shop shelves. When we decided to head to the Yarra Valley for the day their Healesville Distillery was our first stop!
The large and a bit drab facade of the distillery hides the beauty inside. Before you even get to the distilling equipment (which are basically functional works of art) the retail space really pulls you inside. The high ceilings, on trend blend of black and wood tones and impressive gin wall behind the bar create a beautiful and welcoming space. The friendly staff add to the appeal, giving us a run through of the tasting options before giving us time to look around and wander back when we were ready.
Being hardcore gin fans we were keen to do a tasting. It’s $10 for the spirit tasting, an amount redeemable on alcohol you decide to buy that day. Spirit tasting is a little different to say, trying wines at the vineyard. You need to be able to appreciate the florals, the flavour, the mouthfeel, without becoming overwhelmed by the alcohol. We were told to smell the aromatics prior to tasting, exhaling completely as we swallowed. This way the gin goes down smooth and you’re able to get the most from the flavours and smells.
Four Pillars currently offers a selection of 5 gins and we sampled all of them for the $10 price. Their standard is the Rare, offering up a mix of botanicals and their signature oranges. What is really surprising is how vibrant and aromatic the orange comes through in this gin, and we soon discovered it’s because they take the unusual step of using fresh oranges in their gin. There’s also the juniper (it wouldn’t be gin without it!) and a selection of Australian botanicals like the Tasmanian pepperberry and exotic Asian spices including coriander seeds. These are infused in their dry form.
The Navy Strength Gin is something a little stronger. When the sailors received their rations, it was stored near the gunpowder in a ship. Risky right? They thought so too, soon realising that their rations were being diluted when gunpowder on which gin was spilled wasn’t lighting, or just smoking. The Navy standard is 114 proof or 57% when the gunpowder would light – Four Pillars do a gin with an astounding 58.8%. I was a little reluctant to try this gin, fearing the strength would be overwhelming, but with an infusion of finger limes and a bit of spice this gin was delightful. Where it really shines is in a G&T, or other cocktails where that gin flavour needs to be front and centre – but more on that in a moment.
The next variety is the Negroni Spiced Gin, designed for bartenders and to be served in the classic negroni cocktail. It became my favourite for the blood orange flavour. The intensity of the aromatics and the ‘gin-i-ness’ of this gin make it perfect to cut through Campari and Vermouth. The spice has really been upped with the hit of extra Tasmanian pepperberry and fresh ginger in the botanicals, plus the orange has been swapped to tangy and intense blood orange. It was my favourite for its intensity and spice, the botanical aromatic hit and the warmth it generated. Given this wonderful gin was created by the Four Pillars distiller in collaboration with one of the worlds top ten bartenders it’s not surprising it turned out so delicious!
The next gin we tried was the Spirit of Australia, a slightly stronger version of the Rare and with more Australian botanicals. It was designed with Qantas to showcase Australia, combining Australian flavours like quandong and macadamia with Asian spices, creating a warm and spicy mix. While we enjoyed this gin, the flavours weren’t as exciting to us as the aromatics in the negroni or the fresh orange of the rare.
The last gin was a bit unusual, a barrel aged that resembled more of a whisky than a gin. Full disclosure this was something I wasn’t expecting to like, while half of the frenchtoastandindiepop team enjoys dark spirits, I do not. However, this was a nice sipping gin, it was smooth and warming with a full flavour. While it wasn’t my favourite, it was very well loved by the rest of the tasters and I ended up enjoying it much more than I thought I would. It’s not a drink that can be served with tonic, but goes great with ginger ale.
That’s where the tasting flight comes in – to try the gins you’ve just sampled as you would have them at home, with tonic!
I chose the rare, navy strength and negroni mix, all served with garnish and fever tree tonic water. While the navy strength can be quite alcoholic straight, with the lime leaf it was beautiful but didn’t lose that strength. The orange in the rare really brought out the flavour, while we still loved the negroni, even served with grapefruit (a compromise for blood orange which wasn’t in season) giving it a tarter hit.
Four Pillars have a lovely dining space, it’s beautiful, warm and light and the perfect location to enjoy a quiet gin and tonic. While you’re there be sure to take in the impressive distilling equipment, affectionately known as ‘Wilma’. It’s a work of art and beautifully functional!
Four Pillars is well worth the trip to Healesville, be sure to have a tasting and make the most of the opportunity to chat to the staff about this delicious spirit!