We have a date. The highly anticipated yearly release of the Four Pillars Australian Christmas Gin – the nation's unofficial yuletide-season juniper-spiked tipple – has been set down for 2 November.
Since 2016 the Victorian distillery has produced small-batch releases of their special edition and, despite its popularity, their production is maxed out at 15,000 bottles each year.
Cameron Mackenzie, chief distiller and co-owner of Four Pillars, is often surprised by the gin's sellout status. He attributes its popularity to its distinctive festive flavours of juniper, preserved citrus and Christmas spices – Christmas pudding in a bottle, if you will. "It works so well because juniper has a distinct Christmas tree character. It tastes exactly how a Christmas gin should taste – indulgent and rich, but still gin."
He says customers also relate to the gin's back story. "For my family, we'd make puddings on Derby Day with Mum's old Women's Weekly recipe from 1968," he says. "Everyone just loves a bit of tradition," he says.
Every year the three founders of Four Pillars – Mackenzie, Matt Jones and Stuart Gregor – and their families make Christmas puddings using Mackenzie's late mother's recipe. The pudding is treated as a gin botanical and is distilled with juniper, cloves, nutmeg. The final blend comprises of previous year's Christmas Gin, un-aged Christmas Gin and Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin. The lot is aged in 80-year-old barrels which previously held muscat, which imparts the gin with that characteristic fortified-wine character.
The gin takes 11 months to age, with next year's production kicking off on the day of 2019's release. "For the last couple of years we've had people waiting at the door of the distillery before opening time, just to get their hands on a bottle," he says. "When the doors open we have Mariah Carey's Christmas album blaring and it's just a bloody funny day."
And how best to enjoy this gin? On a hot Christmas Day, we're backing it served on the rocks or with ginger ale as a refreshing tall drink; come evening, pour it over ice with a spoonful of cream.
With each yearly release comes a new label design; the 2019 bottle features an Illawarra flame tree in full blazing red bloom by landscape painter Tim Summerton. The east-coast trees – aside from blinding the weary driver – flower from November and are a timely reminder Christmas, and this seasonal gin, is around the corner.
Four Pillars Australian Christmas Gin ($100) is available from 2 November at selected independent retailers, at the Four Pillars distillery or online from fourpillarsgin.com.au, until sold out.