Every year, Four Pillars head distiller Cam Mackenzie releases a new limited-edition Christmas gin. It’s got spice, fruit and – of course – juniper. But it’s more than just a bottle of spirits. For Mackenzie, it’s a tribute to his now departed mum, Wilma.
Every year on Victorian Derby Day (the first Saturday in November), Wilma would make Christmas puddings from a 1968 Australian Women’s Weekly recipe while everyone else gathered around the telly to watch the races. Mackenzie’s warmest childhood memories are of his house smelling like Christmas over Melbourne Cup weekend.
“Mum dragged my idiot brothers and I into the kitchen to help her make all these puddings,” says Mackenzie. “As a kid, it felt like hours that you had to sit there and chop up and stir fruit – it was probably 20 minutes.”
Four Pillars’s Australian Christmas Gin was created a few years ago, on Derby Day. Mackenzie had attempted Wilma’s recipe himself and decided to pop a few of the puddings into the distiller with a batch of Four Pillars gin. He mixed it with a gin aged in 125-year-old Grant’s whisky barrels that had also stored Rutherglen muscat for 80 years, and then he added some classic Rutherglen muscat to round out the flavour. The result was “Christmas in a bottle – a bit indulgent, a bit rich, and really delicious,” says Mackenzie.
The puddings distilled into this year’s Australian Christmas Gin were made were made by the Four Pillars founders and their families on Derby Day last year.
Each year, the Christmas gin label is designed by a different Australian artist. This year’s label by abstract landscape painter Tim Summerton depicts native Illawarra flame trees in full bloom. The trees only flower in summer, so when the Illawarras are ablaze, it means Christmas has arrived. “Doesn’t hurt that I’m a bit of a Cold Chisel fan, and Flame Trees would be one of my favourite songs,” jokes Mackenzie.
A summer Christmas calls for a cool drink, and Mackenzie has a suggestion. “We had one stinking hot Christmas day and we actually found the perfect tall, refreshing drink for such a rich style of gin,” he says. “[Mix it with] ginger ale or ginger beer. It’s kind of like a Dark and Stormy [cocktail], which for many people I think sums up their relationship with their family at Christmas.”