A man and woman lounge by the pool, a small radio to one side. Made up of geometric aqua, red, yellow and pink shapes, it’s a nostalgic scene. While this poolside vision may not scream Christmas to someone in the Northern Hemisphere, the image wrapped around each bottle of Four Pillars Christmas Gin is immediately familiar to any Australian who has spent lazy festive days by the water.
Created by artist Stephen Baker, the artwork is representative of his own Australian Christmases growing up in middle-class white Australia. He remembers feelings of ’80s decadence while hanging out in backyards, listening to pop on the radio and swimming in above-ground pools.
Victorian distillery Four Pillars Gin in the Yarra Valley produces a new edition of its Christmas Gin each year. It’s made by distilling Christmas puddings loaded with nutmeg, raisins and citrus peel, before layering botanicals over the top – juniper, cinnamon, star anise, coriander and angelica (also known as wild celery). It’s then aged in 100-year-old muscat barrels and blended with a second gin that’s been aged in 125-year-old scotch-whisky barrels. A final touch of muscat is added at the end.
While the botanicals in the Four Pillars Christmas Gin are all classic flavours of a winter Christmas, Baker was given free rein to create a scene that didn’t rely on Northern Hemisphere Christmas imagery. It can be hard to put a finger on what makes Christmas, “Christmas” for Australians. Baker says he knew he couldn’t represent everyone’s version and tried to steer away from cliches, while being conscious of how divisive some aspects of the holiday are.
“I just wanted a vibe of Christmas: summer, holidays, and just getting together as a family. Personally, that’s more important than a religious tie in and to me, that separates a lot of people,” he says. “I wanted to keep clear of that and focus on the coming together at Christmas to cook food, eat lots of [it], and just hangout with family.”
Baker’s brief was to first create a painting that the distillery could turn into a label, rather than a label first. He was given complete freedom to create art in line with with his usual geometric style, an obvious example of which is the massive Pool Parade mural adorning the front of Melbourne’s Fitzroy Baths.
For his own holiday celebrations, Baker won’t be recreating the label art but will still be enjoying an Aussie version – camping with family at Darraweit Guim on the edge of the Macedon Ranges.
“Everyone brings a plate of food, or we all have our things to do, last time I cooked breakfast for everyone,” he says. “You don’t need too much to have a fun Christmas. Just a few people, a good vibe and good weather. It kind of ticks all the boxes.”
Back to those geometric sunbathers and one can’t help but wonder what’s playing on that small radio.
“Definitely stuff like Wham!,” says Baker. So in that ’80s spirit, unfold a sun lounger by your nearest body of water, pour a glass of gin and hit play on Last Christmas. Just remember that if you decide to give your heart to someone, make sure they’re special.
Four Pillars Christmas Gin is available now.