From the moment they decided to open a distillery in Australia's Yarra Valley, the co-founders of Four Pillars Gin — Stu Gregor, Cam MacKenzie and Matt Jones — knew it was serious business.
"When we started, we didn't want to make the best gin in Melbourne," said Gregor, "but one that would be considered a great gin compared to any in the world."
Six years ago, they invested in a German still and perfected a range of gins, including the company's flagship drop, Rare Dry Gin, made with native botanicals like lemon myrtle and Tasmanian pepperberry.
In November of 2019, they achieved their goal, winning the 2019 International Gin Producer of the Year at the 50th Annual International Wine and Spirits Com petition in London.
A big part of their success has been getting the product in front of a wide variety of people.
"Five years ago, most people had never had an Aussie gin," said Gregor. "It was something their grandma drank, and they probably would only have come across Gordon's or Beefeater."
"We wanted to have a great home that people would want to visit. It was rammed when I arrived here today, and that was at 11:45 a.m. on a Friday morning," he said.
Recognizing their chosen beverage might not be to everyone's taste, they developed a range of gins to appeal to a wide variety of drinkers. There's a Spiced Negroni Gin, Christmas Gin and Bloody Shiraz Gin, the latter a tip of the cap to their home in the Yarra Valley, a well-known producer of Australia's shiraz wine.
"We made the first batch of Bloody Shiraz as a bit of an experiment," Gregor explained. "This year we'll make well over 100,000 bottles, and we buy more shiraz grapes than anyone else in the Yarra Valley."
Four Pillars gin is available throughout Australia, as well as in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia.
"About five years ago, the Australian gin market was made up of about five craft distilleries," said Little Lon Distilling. executive Dean Jarvis. "At last count there's something like 241."
"We thought it might last 12 to 18 months, and it's been five or six years and shows no sign of slowing down."
Eighteen months ago, Little Lon's founder Brad Wilson and his team moved into a small location in the heart of Melbourne. One of the last red-brick, single-story cottages in the city, the distillery's new home came with an interesting past.
"The story and history of this place was a big thing. Around the 1890s and into the early 1900s, this was a brothel and sly grog shop," Wilson said, using the Australian term for a place that sold illegal alcohol during the country's Prohibition period.
"That was the madam's work room," he said, indicating a small space that currently houses the still. "Now it's our work room."
From the start, Wilson was serious about creating a unique product.
"We're one of the few distillers who go to the trouble of making a base spirit from malt barley," he explained. "We make it a bit hard for ourselves, but we get a lot more control over the flavor."
In the 20-seater bar area, Jarvis pours tastes of the company's three main products. First up is Ginger Mick, named after a "local larrikin" (an Aussie term for mischief maker), that is made with mixed citrus and fresh ginger — a great gin for cocktails.
Then it's Miss Yoko, the Chinese madam of the house (who told people she was from Japan). The drink is "a little bit exotic and made with fresh, hand-peeled lychees, lemongrass and a little bit of cinnamon," Jarvis said.
"It's really great as is — subtle, you really have to look for the lychees — but if you add a splash of tonic, you almost get freeze-dried raspberries."
Finally there's the rosemary overtones of Constable Proudfoot, named after an imposing policeman who once patrolled the area streets.
"It makes a cracking G&T or a herbaceous, floral martini, if that's your thing," said Jarvis.
Those who sign up for a masterclass receive a gin tasting, distillery tour and lessons on the rich history of the area and the characters who once roamed the building and neighboring streets.
When they launched the business three years ago, Dave Irwin and Matt Argus of Patient Wolf Distilling worked from a Brunswick warehouse in the north of Melbourne. But the space wasn't big enough to house their ambitions.
In December of 2019, they moved to the the city's Southbank, not far from the Yarra River and city center.
"Now we have a bar and a place where we can tell people more about the distillery," said Irwin. "We wanted to feed our brand, first of all, but having a front-of-house allows us to portray how we want to be seen and how we want the drinks to be made."
Those wanting a taste of Patient Wolf can order a gin flight which comes with an explanation of how each is made along with each gin's unique characteristics.
"Before we even made our first gin, we identified gaps in the market," said Irwin, who launched into the fast-growing market. "We put gin samples in front of people to get their thoughts. Now everything we do is based on tradition — but has an edge to it."
Patient Wolf's Melbourne Dry Gin — "a good all-rounder" — is available around the country.
"We vapor infuse with grapefruit and orange, and it's made in the London Dry style," said Irwin, noting the presence of juniper, coriander and lesser-known botanicals like aniseed myrtle.
Tonka beans from Brazil and Venezuela add flavors of marzipan and bitter almond and give the gin a good viscosity, he added.
Also on the list is Summer Thyme, perfect for pouring gin and tonics and the winner of Best London Dry Gin at the 2019 Hong Kong Spirit Awards. Blackthorn, a version of sloe gin, is equally good sipped from the freezer.
At the moment, Patient Wolf is also working on launching a martini cart.
"You'll hire the cart, someone will bring it around, explain the history of martinis, then help you to make one yourself," said Irwin. "Basically, it's martinis on tap."