In Food + Drink

Shiraz Gin: A Match Made In Heaven

When Four Pillars first opened its cellar door in 2013, it received one request more than any other.

Customers intimidated by gin’s bold flavours often asked if they produced a sloe gin (a liqueur made by infusing gin with sloes and sugar). Figuring there was clearly a market, distiller Cam Mackenzie decided to do a little research.

Unfortunately, he quickly discovered he wasn’t actually a fan of sloe gin. With the juniper dialled back and a hefty dose of sugar added to the acidic berries that give it colour, it offers an easy entry point for drinkers unaccustomed to gin. But many mass producers use that sugar to mask deficiencies in an inferior product.

Luckily, there was an alternative close at hand. One look at a glass of wine shows how much colour grapes have and they’re also a lot sweeter than sloe berries, meaning there’s no need to add sugar.

How Shiraz Gin was borne

Distiller Cam Mackenzie’s first Shiraz Gin was sweet, but peppery with hints of stone fruit. Image: Rick Liston / Four Pillars

After trying out a few styles, Mackenzie decided that Merlot and Cabernet grapes were too capsicumy and herbaceous to mix with gin, but Shiraz was perfect.

“Yarra Shiraz works really, really well with our gin in that it allows it to be a dominant force,” he says. “Yarra Shiraz tends to be medium bodied – it’s spicy, it has red berries so it doesn’t completely swamp the gin.”

When he talks about Shiraz, Mackenzie is referring to the grape variety rather than wine. After de-stemming the fresh fruit, he poured his Rare Dry gin over at high proof (93.5 per cent alcohol) and then left the mixture to steep for eight weeks before adding more gin to get the alcohol up to 37 per cent.

The result was utterly unlike any other gin on the market. Sweet but peppery, it had hints of stone fruit and a brilliant light purple colour. To say it was well-received is an understatement.

Last year’s Bloody Shiraz Gin was the fourth official vintage and the 75,000 bottles released in June had sold out by October. For this year’s vintage (which will be around 100,000 bottles) Mackenzie has had to source grapes from further afield, venturing to the nearby cool climate regions of Southern Bendigo and Mt Macedon.

That success has not gone unnoticed, and there is now a range of imitators around the country.

It was inevitable wine and gin would be blended

Mackenzie’s Shiraz Gin was unlike any other gin on the market at the time. Image: Rick Liston / Four Pillars

Most of Australia’s wine regions also house boutique distilleries, and the Barossa Valley is no different. Home to the most famous Shiraz vineyards in the country, it was only a matter of time before some of that fruit found its way into gin.

The Barossa Distilling Company makes a Shiraz Gin and just down the road, Seppeltsfield Road Distillers is run by two seventh generation Barossans.

Their Barossa Shiraz Gin sold out in two months after last vintage (they will triple the 900-bottle run this year), and Brand Ambassador Scott McCarthy openly acknowledges the inspiration for the product.

“Obviously it is along the same lines, but Four Pillars uses cool climate grapes where we’re all about warm climate grapes, so the flavours are really bold,” he says.

Just as there is room for many different expressions of the same grape in wine, he says that the two products can co-exist happily. And like wine, each release will look and taste different because it reflects that year’s vintage.

But neither distillery has stopped there. Seppeltsfield Road has used the same method with Semillon grapes to create Semi-Gin, a golden liquid with the butterscotch and raisin notes of a sticky dessert wine. Barossa Distilling, meanwhile, blends gin with white Frontignac and Riberries to make the more gentle, floral Budburst.

Shiraz Gin can also be blended with the finished product

Two-Accents-Bottling-Day-Shiraz-Gin

Two Accents Distillery blends gin with the finished wine product. Image: Two Accents Distillery

A hundred kilometres to the south, Laurie Bilby of Two Accents Distillery is creating her own Shiraz Gin in a very different way. Her partner is the winemaker at McLaren Vale’s Doc Adams winery and rather than using fresh grapes, she decided to blend her gin with the finished product.

She crafted a new gin specifically to complement the 1838 First Vines Shiraz, loading it with citrus, caraway and apple. The result is nothing like Bloody Shiraz Gin as the sugars have been fermented out and instead the tannins and berry flavours are at the fore beside the juniper and botanicals from the gin.

And Ginscato takes a different approach again. A blend of McLaren Vale Moscato with custom-made gin that leans on hibiscus and elderberry flavours, co-founder Will Simpson describes it as a “premium RTD”.

Because the Moscato is a sweet wine to begin with, there’s no sugar added and at 7% alcohol it’s intended to be drunk over ice with mint “like an Aperol spritz that you would start the evening with”.

So, how do you drink Shiraz Gin?

Four-Pillars shiraz gin

Drink Shiraz Gin in a gin and tonic style drink with bitter lemon or lemon tonic. Image: Four Pillars

Ask almost any distiller how to serve their gin and they’ll suggest trying it on its own to fully appreciate the flavours. But when was the last time you saw people ordering a neat gin on a Friday night?

While the sweeter Shiraz Gins do lend themselves more readily to being served over ice, Mackenzie recommends drinking his “in a gin and tonic style drink with bitter lemon or lemon tonic”.

McCarthy echoes this with a suggestion to try it “as a gin & soda with lemon juice. Because of the vibrancy, you can pour a fair bit in a nice tall drink and it goes a bright purple, it’s got a delightful colour to it”.

(Lead image: Bloody Shiraz Gin / Four Pillars) 

Published 02 April, 2019