Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the Still Magic podcast, your one-click audio stop for all things gin, be it gin making, gin producing, gin distilling, gin manufacturing, gin commercialising, gin tasting, gin drinking, gin steeping, and everything else in between. I’m your host, Marcel Thompson.
Foreword by Cameron Mackenzie
Starting a distillery isn’t easy. Prior to launching Four Pillars in late 2013, we spent nearly two years planning and piecing together the distillery. I always call this our Breaking Bad phase. Although we had production experience in the wine industry, we were largely flying blind.
Something we realised very early on was the lack of a strong and willing knowledge bank in Australia. There were not many distilleries and even fewer specialising in gin. Sure, it’s a mountain of fun: choosing botanicals, distilling, creating recipes, making drinks… but after a while you find yourself with more questions than answers. It’s a classic case of picking a stitch and ending up doing surgery.
Almost every week someone visits our distillery with the ambition of making gin, but the divide between ambition and ability is often glaring. To this day, I often wonder how people approach this industry without any production experience or palate training.
Little did I know that Marcel Thompson was sitting on my doorstep. Here is a man who has distilled two of the world’s most historical and important gin brands: Tanqueray and Gordon’s! He has a mountain of experience in large and small operations, R&D, palate development and so much more. More recently, he’s partnered with Jesse Kennedy and Griff Blumer to create the Poor Toms product range. And somewhere along the way he found time to write this book.
When you meet Marcel you instantly realise he’s a real character with an unbridled passion for gin. He has story after story about projects he has worked on, and he isn’t afraid to share his experience and knowledge. Still Magic just confirms his generosity.
Few people are better placed to offer the advice he shares in this book. He starts with some basic set-up advice before launching into a step-by-step guide to recipe creation and so much more. I kept thinking to myself, ‘Geez, I wish I’d done that! I might have launched sooner.’
His constant reinforcement of key principles is crucial. But this book isn’t just for would-be distillers. This is a great book for anyone looking to start a business, anyone interested in creating something – the principles don’t really change.
I look forward to recommending this book when would-be distillers come knocking.
Well done mate, you’re a legend.
Cameron Mackenzie, Founder and Distiller
Four Pillars Gin
Introduction by Marcel Thompson
Gin. One of the shortest words in the alcohol lexicon, yet one of the most enduring. It takes its name in equal measure by channeling words from the Dutch and French languages, and the botanical name of a fabulous plant.
You will learn about relevant gin techniques that have stood the test of time, and the part they play in today’s global resurgence. You’ll receive a distiller’s view of the gin world, paying homage to its colourful history, its place today, and what gin’s future would look like with you at the helm. Gin is still magic today as it ever was.
Following graduation from Auckland University in the 1980s, I took up my first career role as an assistant distiller. Without fully appreciating this at the time, I was fortunate enough to be apprentice to some of the legends of Australasian gin making, whose gin making lineage can be traced back to the giants of the game in pre-war Britain. This experience provided me with a springboard into related roles over time, ranging from manufacturing, production and quality control oversight, to driving new product development ideas from concept to commercialisation.
I’ve held end-to-end product development and delivery responsibilities for many products during my career, but my enduring passion has lain with ginmaking for local and international consumption. This includes producing Gordon’s, Tanqueray, Booths and Vickers as key experiences garnered at an early age. My interest in the alcohol industry and a thirst for knowledge led to joint venture project roles with United Distillers (Aust) Ltd (now Diageo), International Bottling Company, New Zealand Wines & Spirits, Fairdeal Liquors, and the Punja Group of Companies; a clear case for describing the benefits of volunteering writ large.
The projects focused upon new products in new markets, and the creation of compliant systems for joint venture partners. Understanding and delivering upon customer expectations have been key success factors to date. In more recent times, I’ve taken on the Gin Mastermind mantle at Poor Toms Gin, a craft distillery located in inner Sydney, Australia. This role allows me to express and share my passion for three key concepts; making gin more accessible to its manifold enthusiasts, safeguarding gin’s commercial success and creating an enduring mark for generations to come.
Heritage. Guardianship. Legacy.
It was the serendipitous meeting with three keen gin enthusiasts and a misadventure that catalysed my motivation to transform this belief into one of personal commitment; to bring Heritage, Guardianship and Legacy to life in a different time and space. What I describe next has the potential to be one of ‘those’ jokes that people tell one another, that often end badly. Spoiler alert; this one does not.
In October 2014 a banker, an actor, and a business owner walk into a bar – in Chatswood, Sydney – to meet yours truly. I met two entrepreneurs colloquially referred to as the Poor Toms: Jesse Thomas Kennedy, and Griffin Thomas Blumer. Both young men took the courageous decision to walk away from their careers and pursue a dream; to make world class, playfully irreverent gin. Armed with little more than small stills and lofty ideas, their energy, enthusiasm and desire were the first characteristics that struck me. These are inherent and are nigh impossible to teach; however, they also make people very teachable when directed in a collaborative fashion.
As far as I can tell it would be unlikely that anyone has tried – or ever will – to describe what I had in mind. A crash course in scalable gin making techniques became the order of the day; February 2015 signaled the start of weekend-based Gin Making Boot Camps.
Then came the misadventure; I felt a little unwell and sought medical advice. Symptoms were consistent with ‘flu or some other viral ailment albeit inconclusive’. Turns out it was a little more serious than first thought. It’s often at times like these when people reflect inwardly, and this was no different. I had too much to do, not a lot of time to do it and was driven by the fear of letting the Poor Toms down before they’d started. Three important matters and a gin dream were at stake.
A year-long chemotherapy campaign coupled with a modified gym program created by my personal trainer Troy McLellan lay ahead from Easter 2015. This left seven weekends to get the boot-camps up and running to meet the goal of producing world class gin.
I decided to fight and so did Poor Toms, resulting in award winning recognition at the 2016 San Francisco Spirits Competition for Sydney Dry Gin; the start of global and national accolades in subsequent years. In 2016, Fool Strength Gin was released and won gold medals in 2018 at the Australian Distilled Spirits Awards and The International Wines and Spirits Competition, London. In the latter case, Poor Toms was the second Australian product to achieve gold since the competition’s inception in 1969.
You need little experience as energy, enthusiasm, desire and applying simple instructions will get you there. If you love gin, maybe something about cooking, and a little about music – or a lot for that matter,
Gin has been the drink of aristocrats and everyday people since the seventeenth century. It is steeped in a rich history, driven by forces as diverse as the need for social connection, and warfare.
It is the product of both art and science with an unequalled heritage attracting a keen sense of guardianship among its enthusiasts.
Gin’s resurgence in popularity in the twenty-first century serves to enrich a centuries-long standing tradition, thereby reinforcing its legacy for future generations to build upon.
There are recurring themes throughout every gin making journey, simplicity, common ground, record keeping, and legacy. Eating, drinking and making merriment are traditions that span centuries. You will see how intertwined these pursuits are and the commonality they share with gin making. In the age of sociability and connectedness that we now live in, it is both heartening and exciting to see where the next chapter in gin’s centuries-long story will take us.
So from all of us here at the Still Magic podcast:
Be bold. Enjoy yourselves, and go and create your own gin narrative.
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