Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin: Neon Purple And Guaranteed To Contain No Motorcycle Engine Parts
by Ken Gargett
Unless you have been living in a cave for the last decade, it has been impossible to miss the explosion of interest in gin. Has any spirit ever grabbed attention as hard and fast?
I have a theory that many of these gins – and there are literally hundreds of new gins to have hit the bars and retail shelves in the last ten years – came about because the teams behind them decided they wanted to make great spirits and discovered that drinks like whiskey and rum took many years of maturation before they would reach the desired standards.
The new breed of distillers had neither the patience nor the pocketbooks to support such projects. So they turned to gin – many of them may have other spirits in the works, quietly maturing, but gin will pay the bills. It can go from concept to bottle in months, not years.
But your parents’ gin was gin. In those days, gin was gin was gin. They may have had a preferred brand but, really, was there all that much difference? Gradients of quality, perhaps.
Today’s distillers have not just broken the mould; they have smashed it and started afresh.
We saw early trends with the popularity of the wonderful Hendricks and its cucumber nuances. Since then, imagination has run riot: an extraordinary array of botanicals, spices, and herbs are used. And it does not stop there.
Gold 999.9 is distilled in a gold pot still. The brilliant Monkey 47 from Germany’s Black Forest uses 47 different botanicals. We have seen gins with such weird ingredients as black truffles and green ants (for non-Aussies, these are quite large and very grumpy ants that are more than prepared to bite anyone who annoys them – every Aussie kid will have been bitten more times than they can remember, and it hurts).
We have seen the £2,000 Japanese Watenshi Gin – the world’s most expensive – made from the “angel’s share,” meaning the one percent that evaporates during production. As a result, the Cambridge Distillery’s team needs to distill every batch at least 50 times as there are just 15 ml per distillation to be had.
Perhaps the weirdest of all is The Archaeologist gin. Made by a motorbike enthusiast, who was dubbed the Archaeologist because he has spent many years tracking down old bikes from all corners of the globe, each bottle is unique as it contains an individual part from one of these vintage bikes, usually Harley-Davidsons.
So, according to those in the know, the bottle could contain 1939 Flathead camshafts from the Mexican desert, 1947 Knucklehead screw nuts from Chile, or 1962 Panhead rocker arms from South Korea. I have no idea what any of those things are, or do, but I’d put money on none of them improving the flavor of gin (the parts are sealed in tin to prevent any pollution of the spirit).
Needless to say, production is limited. There is a waiting list, with The Archaeologist’s customers – he also makes handcrafted motorbikes – given priority. Each bottle costs more than $1,000, and so far they have sold out upon release. I have found no report as to the actual quality of the gin, but if you are paying that sort of money for a bottle with nuts and bolts in it, I suspect that flavor or quality is not uppermost in your mind.
Australian gin: not coming, already here
Australia has not been immune to the gin explosion; indeed, it has been at the forefront.
And one of the most popular local producers is Four Pillars from Healesville in the Yarra Valley. It was founded in 2013 by a couple of friends (disclaimer – they are also good mates of mine) and already has an international presence.
Cam McKenzie is the distiller; Stu Gregor does the marketing. They have had their share of the odd and curious – notably their Christmas gin, which was originally made by McKenzie soaking a batch with his mum’s Christmas cakes. It was delicious and is now an annual release.
They also make more mundane releases (I mean that only in the sense of them being slightly more traditional than some of their more outlandish products), and my favorite is their Barrel Aged Gin, which shows that this spirit can be as complex and textural as any other.
But there is nothing they make – or indeed any other gin distiller in Australia makes – that has grabbed attention like their Bloody Shiraz Gin.
Bright purple in color, it came about when McKenzie steeped some of the label’s Rare Dry Gin in the juice from some freshly crushed Yarra Valley Shiraz. The first was a small release in 2015; the latest, from 2018, has just hit the shelves, and production now allows for export to certain markets in Europe, Asia, and the United States.
It is a bargain in comparison to many of the top gins around today at AUD$85, though you’ll need to find your own motorbike parts.
The 2015 was a joy, wonderfully exuberant, and although subsequent releases have all appealed, I have never been convinced that they matched the original.
The latest has that extra vibrancy that lifted the 2015. There is the traditional neon purple color and the spices – clove/white pepper, orange blossom aromatics – with a flick of sweetness that made the first one such a revelation. Flavors here are more of black fruits than the red berry/cherry/raspberries that were more prevalent in the early releases, and there are notes of juniper. The plum and black cherry notes come from that portion of the Yarra Shiraz that was harvested a little later than the rest. It is a delight to drink.
It can be used for cocktails, but simply sipping on it, toss in an ice cube or two if you wish, is optimal for many. It is best consumed young as older bottles move into the dried fruit spectrum of flavors.
If there is anyone on the planet yet to jump on board the gin revolution, this would make for a great start.
For more information please visit www.fourpillarsgin.com.au/buying/bloody-shiraz-gin.
Also published on Medium.