Cam Mackenzie is the head distiller at the Four Pillars Distillery in Healesville, Victoria. Not only is he the wizard behind one of the trailblazers in the Australian gin scene, he’s also a former Australian Olympian plus he has to put up with his business partner Stu Gregor on a daily basis, for which he deserves an AO (Order of Australia). Just kidding Stu, we bloody love ya.
1. How did you become a distiller? Nature or nurture?
Distilling was actually something I sort of fell into, and it’s been a real mix of both nature and nurture. The nature part comes as I have a background in wine, so I already had a bit of a feel for blending and melding flavours together. I like to think of gin as the winemakers spirit, it has all the same things you look for in wine with the exception of sugar and acid. When making wine and gin you’re always looking for balance, texture, weight and flavour, so it wasn’t a hard step to go from wine to gin. The nurture part comes from the hundreds of videos and hours of research I did (and still do) before we released the Rare Dry Gin.
2. What’s the best thing about being a distiller?
I love having a hands-on job, and I love that no two days are the same. Sometimes I am distilling all day, sometimes I’m hosting distilling masterclasses with trade groups from around Australia, and now I’m making hand sanitiser! It’s not always what I thought I’d be doing, but it definitely keeps things interesting, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
3. And the worst?
Something that smells great or tastes great fresh doesn’t always distil the same way. Working this out to begin with was a challenge. Now it’s become a bit of a joke as to how something might turn out after it’s been distilled – asparagus gin is a prime example of this!
4. What’s your first drink of the day? Coffee, tea or ethanol?
Ha, well it’s definitely not Ethanol that’s for sure! We’re using the leftover Ethanol these days to make hand-sanitizer anyway, so there’d be none left for me. Instead I’m a big fan of a strong coffee.
5. Awards or sales?
I guess I’d have to say sales. The awards are great, but they unfortunately don’t pay the bills. Without the sales we don’t get to experiment and have the chance to make new and exciting things for everyone.
6. Negroni or Martini?
I’m a Negroni man. With our Spiced Negroni Gin of course!!
7. What’s the question you get asked the most?
What’s your favourite gin you’ve made?
8. And what’s the answer?
That’s definitely a hard one, it’s like choosing a favourite child because I love them all like my own children. But if we’re being ruthless, I’d probably say the Rare Dry Gin, it was the first gin we ever made so I think I’ll always have a real connection and love for it.
9. One tip for budding distillers please.
Ask lots of questions, do lots of research and talk to other distillers! Learn from their mistakes, I know we made heaps so I’m always happy to share how (not) to make them.