When two of the world’s most awarded distillers come together, spectacular results are expected – and the Dry Island Gin in your August Gin of the Month box doesn’t disappoint. Go behind the scenes of this historic collaboration between Hernö and Four Pillars, which Craft Gin Club members are the first in the Northern Hemisphere to try.
When Jon Hillgren, founder and head distiller at multi award-winning Hernö Gin, stepped off his 25-hour flight, he had travelled more than 15,500 miles. Having boarded a plane in the icy winter of Stockholm, he stepped out into the sweltering Melbourne summer. He had journeyed across the world, from one island to another, to meet Cameron Mackenzie, Stuart Gregor and Matt Jones, the cofounders and friends behind the Australian gin taking the world by storm: Four Pillars.
And, while his house may have been on the other side of the world, Jon was about to feel right at home.
“I got to work side-by-side at the still with Cam,” says Jon with a smile. “He’s a man with many years of experience making gin, so I couldn’t have been in more comfort.”
Jon’s journey was more than a holiday or a meet-and-greet; he had come to Australia to collaborate with the friends behind Four Pillars. And, when the most-awarded gin distiller in Europe met the three best friends making Australia’s banner gin, magic was sure to happen.
Their standing as two of the world’s most respected and admired craft gin distillers isn’t the only thing that Hernö’s Jon and Cam, Stu and Matt of Four Pillars have in common. In fact, their gins were both Craft Gin Club Gins of the Month in 2016.
In July 2016, our members received a limited-edition bottle of Hernö, and were introduced to the Antipodean Four Pillars in November of the same year. Lots has changed for Craft Gin Club since then – and for the two distilleries!
As Jon says, “We’ve gone from a small, craft distillery not known outside of Sweden to a distillery with products in 25 markets – and we’re now the most awarded gin in Europe for the last five years.”
Likewise, the three friends behind Four Pillars have made massive strides. They’ve made a name for themselves as some of the most creative gin distillers working today, crafting one smash-hit special edition after another. From Australian Christmas Gin to Bloody Shiraz Gin, the trio have gone from strength to strength – and all from their beautiful distillery in Australia’s Yarra Valley, just outside of Melbourne.
As Jon and the Four Pillars co-founders travelled the globe, introducing gin lovers everywhere to their spectacular spirits, they couldn’t help but notice one another’s work. Stu says, “I can still remember the first time we came across Hernö Gin. It was love at first sight, kind of like seeing ABBA’s premier at Eurovision. You just knew they were gonna be big.”
The admiration was mutual. “They made an impressive amount of progress in a very short period of time,” says Jon of Four Pillars, which launched a year nearly to the day after his gin hit the market. “And, of course, their gins are very, very good, and a favourite of mine.”
With so many gin fans to reach all around the world, it was only a matter of time before Jon and the Four Pillars co-founders crossed paths in person. As incredibly talented distillers with exacting standards for spirits, they had a lot in common. It was only natural that they all got to talking.
Stu says, “When we drank and chatted and drank some more, it became clear that there were striking similarities between us in philosophy, in commitment and in ambition.”
As they spoke, uncovering so many similarities in their approach to distillation and throwing around increasingly amazing ideas, an idea struck them: why not work together? With a toast between four friends, the gin collaboration of a lifetime was born.
Sweden, a stunning collection of tens of thousands of beautiful islands, boasts brilliant flavours that bring the glory of a Scandinavian summer instantly to life. Likewise, the unique flora of Australia’s incredible landscapes has always been an inspiration for the team at Four Pillars.
When it came to their collaboration, Jon, Cam, Stu and Matt wanted to bring these evocative scents and flavours into a single, elegant spirit.
“We always said that we wouldn’t make a straight London Dry gin,” Cam says. “The Brits do it well enough without Australian help! But working with Jon has allowed us to make a brilliant and distinctive riff on a London Dry that really excites me.”
Cam, who serves as master distiller at Four Pillars, whisked Jon off of the tarmac and back to his Yarra Valley distillery, where they got right to work on their spirit. The first step? Tasting Four Pillars and Hernö gins side-by-side, to identify what their gins have in common, and the characteristics that their collaboration would have to possess to be worthy of a spot in both ranges.
Cam says, “What Jon and I found when we sat down at our distillery in Healesville, was that both ranges of gin have an amazing purity of spirit. Both exude vibrant, lifted styles with great palate weight while maintaining a very clean, soft spirit.”
It quickly became clear what kind of gin they were aiming to create: a classic gin, which would stand up in any of the classic cocktails that both Cam and Jon loved so much.
And so began the process of piecing together a botanical blend that would make just such a gin a reality. From Sweden, the elegantly floral botanical meadowsweet was enlisted.
From Australia, several exotic botanicals were drafted in: river mint, a wild-growing herb with a spearminty taste and scent; strawberry gum, the leaves of a tree closely related to eucalyptus; and roasted wattleseed, a spice with a flavour somewhere between hazelnut, coffee and chocolate.
Cam says, “The botanicals were chosen to combine brightness and texture. They tie in very well with the canvas of juniper, and roasted wattleseed is very textural – it’s almost starchy. It added a really nice weight and depth to the gin.”
These botanicals went into the Four Pillars base spirit and their incredibly pure water, one of the ‘four pillars’ upon which the distillery is founded.
While this is very much a Four Pillars gin – Four Pillars base spirit, water, stills and expertise – Jon weighed in when it came to the distillation process. When Cam and the team from Four Pillars distil their signature gins, they use between four and seven plates in their copper CARL stills. These plates, which are inserted into the column, increase the number of times that the liquids and vapours in the still interact, and cut the amount of time that each still needs to run. But Jon recommended that they remove the plates, and run the stills at a lower temperature for longer.
“Overall the distillation is quite slow and intense,” says Cam, “but the purity is unreal.” The resulting gin is bright and lifted, with citrus notes and a floral, cut-grass character. With a weighty palate and more than a touch of fresh pine forest about it, this liquid is as clean and pure as a classic London Dry gin can come.
Jon says, “The idea was to create a gin with the knowledge from both the Southern and Northern Hemispheres. Cam and myself took this idea to the drawing table and into one of Four Pillars’ stills, and we ended up with a great result!”
All that remained was to bottle this beautiful liquid – and, of course, give it a name!
Follow the Sun
As a product of the Four Pillars distillery, it was agreed between all of the collaborators that their new spirit would go into a Four Pillars bottle. But the label and name had to be something special, and signal for all the world that this expression was a collaboration between two great distilleries.
The name came to Four Pillars co-founder Matt fairly easily, when he stepped back and took a look at the project as a whole.
“We were making a London Dry style gin,” Stu says, “on a dry, island continent with a guy from a country of literally thousands of islands. So we went with Dry Island Gin.”
Now they just needed a label to match. Stu continues, “We wanted the label to be bold, striking and a bit Swedish in colour scheme.”
Blue and yellow – the colours of the Swedish flag – were a natural choice. Things got even better when Jon told the team that the word for ‘island’ in Swedish is ‘ö’. There was the centrepiece of their label, with the umlaut slotting right into the four dots that always accompanied the Four Pillars logo.
“The graphic on the label just says ‘Island’,” Stu smiles. “We love it.”
And Dry Island Gin is just the beginning. The Four Pillars team have already planned a trip of their own: to Sweden, where they can work with Jon on another collaboration, distilled in Jon’s beautiful barn conversion distillery and bottled in Hernö colours.
But first, they have to celebrate the beautiful expression they’ve already got – and Craft Gin Club members are an integral part of the party. As the first people in Europe to have a chance to taste this exclusive collaboration, it’s up to you to enjoy this amazing gin to the max!
“We are thrilled that Craft Gin Club members will be the first people in the Northern Hemisphere to enjoy this unique gin,” Cam smiles. “This gin, made at our home in Healesville, will be made once, and once only. For your first drink, I love it in a dry Martini with a lemon twist.”
Stu adds, “At Four Pillars, we can’t imagine having any greater pride than releasing this gin. While we love and treasure our own gins, this gin is something just a little bit special – it’s about respect and friendship across the globe.”
From Sweden to Australia, this beautiful bottle will keep summer going all year around – so raise a glass to this once-in-a-lifetime collaboration!