The pandemic was a "kick in the guts" for Four Pillars Gin, but it hasn't scuppered the company's global ambitions, says co-founder Cameron Mackenzie.
On Friday, Four Pillars announced a $6 million redevelopment of its distillery door in the Yarra Valley, doubling its capacity to accommodate more than 200,000 visitors a year.
The 12-month-long project was originally slated for 2020, and Mackenzie says the company is now confident enough to forge ahead from next week.
"We could see towards the end of lockdown that domestic tourism was going to bounce back fairly hard," he says.
"I think this is 100 per cent the right thing to do if we want to be a global craft spirit brand.
"We have to have a strong home that makes a real statement, and that's what we're going to create."
Overseen by sustainable design firm Breathe Architecture, the development is directly adjacent to Four Pillars' current site in Healesville. It will incorporate new hospitality, production and bottling facilities that will blend with the distillery's current offering.
The property will be encased in a copper facade inspired by Four Pillars' copper gin stills; a striking architectural landmark at the gateway to Healesville.
Such expansion has been made possible by Four Pillars' sale in March 2019 of a 50 per cent stake in the business to Lion Beer, Spirits & Wine, a subsidiary of Japanese beverage giant Kirin.
Mackenzie says 2020 was a year of highs and lows for Four Pillars. The pandemic eradicated its duty free sales; forced the closure of hospitality in Healesville for a total of seven months; and hampered the launch of its new Sydney outpost, Four Pillars Laboratory in Surry Hills.
"Opening a bar in the middle of a pandemic was not our finest moment," he says.
The distiller overcame these headwinds by securing new export details with retailers Waitrose and Marks & Spencer in the UK, and BevMo! in California. In November, Four Pillars won the coveted International Wine and Spirit Competition International Gin Producer of the Year award for a second year running.
In non-pandemic times, close to 6 million tourists visit the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges regions each year.
The Four Pillars redevelopment is the latest tourism coup for the region following the openings of Matilda Bay Brewery and Jayden Ong Winery & Cellar Bar, both in Healesville, and the December 2020 arrival of Ben Shewry's outdoor pop-up restaurant, Attica Summer Camp, in Seville.
"We're really thought of as Melbourne's backyard, so having first-class experiences like Four Pillars Distillery is just so important for how we continue to drive that visitation," says Yarra Ranges Tourism chief executive Simon O'Callaghan.
"Food and wine has been an anchor of the Yarra Valley for a long time and we need to rely on businesses to keep investing in themselves, like Four Pillars are doing."