When beloved Melbourne pub and live music venue the Espy reopened last year after a major overhaul, it came with revived interiors, a retractable glass ceiling and polished floors.
It also came with a new gin, purpose made to celebrate the venue’s rock’n’roll lineage, courtesy of Four Pillars. It’s called Sticky Carpet and is head distiller Cameron Mackenzie’s ode to the stories and beer-soaked, well-trodden carpets of the old venue.
“I have very fond memories of trying to sneak in there as a 16-year-old to watch my brother’s band, [Venom P Stinger], back in the day,” Mackenzie says.
Originally released as an exclusive for the venue, Four Pillars is now taking Sticky Carpet Gin beyond the walls of the Espy and offering it to all of Australia. From Saturday September 14 the gin will be available online and at the distillery’s Yarra Valley cellar door. It’ll be a fairly limited release, but anyone who visits the distillery over the next couple of weeks can have a taste.
Inventing the flavour profile of the gin required experimentation; generating a taste that represents the “Espy experience” was a unique process. The team at Four Pillars even sought inspiration from old Espy relics, such as original posters from past gigs in the Gershwin Room. Some of the poster art has even made it onto the underside of the gin label.
“We decided it should have a distinctly pub-y, beer-y feel to it. Instead of just using our normal, neutral grain spirit as an alcohol base we also used some roasted dark stout from Watts River brewery in the Yarra Valley,” says Mackenzie.
“Not everything worked,” he continues. “But things like hops are really aromatic, really fragrant, and almost quite tropical, and they distill incredibly well. Roasted barley was a fantastic option for texture, and it had this lovely coffee-chocolate kind of character to it as well that worked with the hops, and importantly, with juniper.”
The spirit also incorporates honey, which Mackenzie explains, “put the sticky in Sticky Carpet”.
“This is the Espy we’re talking about here – this was, and thankfully is again today, a thriving live music venue. Back in the day, your feet would quite literally stick to the carpet,” says Mackenzie. “You went to the Espy for a beer, and to listen to live music. So you start to piece it together from there what characters and aromas and flavours you’re looking for.”
The result is aromatic, but its hallmark is a slightly malty character. It wont taste like beer, Mackenzie explains, but instead of gin’s clean citrus character it leaves a hoppy impression that bears resemblance to pale ale.
The Sticky Carpet Gin is the first in an occasional series of gins celebrating Australia’s great hotels and their front bars. The next venue is yet to be announced, but until then Mackenzie suggests mixing the gin into his favourite cocktail: Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew. It’s a mix of gin, lemon juice, ginger syrup and bitter British ale invented at London restaurant Hawksmoor.