If you think gin improves most things, you'll be happy to know that Four Pillars is out to make this Christmas your best yet, with the second release of its (slightly tweaked) Australian Christmas Gin. And with a fivefold increase in production, the chances of getting your hands on a bottle are looking better than ever.
If you're not familiar with the special-release gin, it's essentially the flavour of Christmas in liquid form, made using Christmas pudding, cloves, nutmeg, star anise and muscat. Cameron Mackenzie, Four Pillars' co-founder and chief distiller, created the gin as a tribute to his late mother Wilma's tradition of baking Christmas puddings every Derby Day, the Saturday before Melbourne Cup.
"That weekend was a sign in our house that we had to get our heads into Christmas," he says. "My mum passed away over 20 years ago and that little tradition in our house went away for a long time."
Now it's back and - no offence to Wilma - it's more fun than ever.
This year, Mackenzie's kitchen was overrun with children (his own and his Four Pillars partners') preparing Christmas puddings according to the same 1968 Australian Women's Weekly recipe Wilma used. They made roughly 50 puddings, which ended up producing about 15,000 bottles of Christmas Gin.
The 2017 blend benefited from extended time in barrels and the addition of some 10-year-old muscat Four Pillars have been maturing, which supplements the Rutherglen muscat that made an appearance in the 2016 batch.
"Christmas is a rich time of year: we all eat too much, drink too much and spend too much," Mackenzie says. "We wanted the gin to have a weightiness and richness to it."
Mackenzie describes people's first experience with the Christmas blend as one of awe. "They look a bit stunned and say, 'It actually does taste like Christmas pudding.'"
The pudding is treated in the same way as their botanicals, with some placed in the pot and the rest placed in the botanical basket along with the other spices. The final blend is made up of barrel-aged Christmas Gin, un-aged Christmas Gin, Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin and the muscat. Each release is ready to bottle, label and pack after 11 months.
And with a new release comes a new label. This year's design is by Darren Song, whose practice involves stitching designs on to illustrations and old photographs. Song took a 1960s Shell collectible card featuring a king Christmas beetle and sewed his own embellishments onto it, creating a brightly coloured label that reflects the Australian Christmas.
Experts at knowing what you want before you do, Four Pillars are also behind the coveted Bloody Shiraz Gin, a spiced purple spirit made with Yarra Valley shiraz grapes, which regularly sells out. Last year's release of the Christmas Gin sold out in just five days. "In fact, my aunty even went and queued up at a shop in Melbourne an hour before it opened so she could get a bottle," Mackenzie says. "This year, I've told her I'm sending her some."
Unless you've also got a family connection to the Four Pillars crew, we recommend that you mark 4 November in your diary and stock up on an extra bottle for any friends who miss out. Oh, and early-comers can also buy a Silver Penny Christmas pudding, made using gin-steamed oranges leftover from Four Pillars' gin-making.
Four Pillars Australian Christmas Gin ($100) is available from 4 November in selected independent retailers, at the distillery or online from fourpillarsgin.com.au.
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