To Australia's export markets, the word "bloody" has a chequered history (hello Lara Bingle!). But for Cameron Mackenzie, head distiller at Four Pillars, his Bloody Shiraz Gin has an unexpected international appeal.
"We've had big interest in the Nordic areas, and it's growing in Southeast Asia," he says. "'Bloody shiraz' sounds more Australian than we give it credit for."
It's the fifth "vintage" of the Four Pillars' vino-infused gin, named after the shiraz grapes that "bleed" a deep-red colour into the spirit. And judging from previous sales, it's likely to be the fifth year that the product sells out.
"Every year we've doubled our production. It's been a phenomenal response," says Mackenzie. The first shiraz-gin production in 2015 used 250 kilograms of shiraz grapes from the vineyard of Rob Dolan, the celebrated winemaker and then-landlord of the Four Pillars distillery. "We stumbled upon – well, we stole – grapes from his winery to make the first batch," says Mackenzie.
In this year's release, Mackenzie and his team have steeped almost 100 tonnes of shiraz grapes (sourced from the Yarra Valley and south Victoria) in Four Pillars' rare dry gin for eight weeks, before it's pressed and blended with more gin. And upscaling their shiraz gin production has improved, rather than diluted, the end result. "The grapes don't oxidise and become port-like. It stays nice and fresh," Mackenzie says.
As for the taste, he describes the product as first and foremost a gin. "It has a pine-forest, juniper character, and a Yarra Valley, white-pepper spice from the shiraz," he says. "Yarra and cool-climate shiraz is quite unique – it's not big and jammy like McLaren Vale or Barossa varieties. It's medium-bodied, so you tend to get more spice and dark-berry notes."
He recommends drinking the gin simply over ice, mixed in a tall glass with lemon tonic, or in a Southside cocktail with lime juice and mint (but forego the usual sugar syrup). They're all considered serving suggestions – provided keen drinkers can get their hands on a bottle.
"I think we're going to end up with 140,000 bottles this year," says Mackenzie. Given the phone calls, emails and social-media messages from prospective buyers, will it sell out? "I hope so. But I've given up trying to figure it out."
Four Pillars' Bloody Shiraz Gin is on sale on 1 June for $85 from fourpillarsgin.com.au and select liquor retailers.