Cameron Mackenzie, 52, and Stuart Gregor, 53, are craft gin makers. Thrown together by chance two decades ago, they clicked instantly and are now bonded by work, family and a shared appreciation for kilts.
Cam: I had competed in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 in the 4 x 400 meter relay and in 1999 I was trying to make the Sydney Olympic team as a 400 meter runner. Stu was in charge of communications for Beringer Blass Wines. Through an Olympic jobs program, I was offered to him as an assistant. If you were to graph my athletic career and my alcoholic career, the moment one went down and the other soared was the day I met him.
Stu didn’t know what to do with me and I didn’t understand what he was doing in PR and communications, but we clicked instantly. He struck me as someone who doesn’t take anything seriously. Meetings were always nice and quick and he would be quick with a quip. Stu moved from Melbourne to Sydney, but we remained good friends. If ever there was an opportunity to play sports or a lunch that turned into dinner, we would. We started families, vacationed together. My kids absolutely adore it.
In 2011, I was still working in wine, but not in production, and I wanted to get my hands dirty. I had a mortgage and three kids and wondered what to do next. Stu and I being gin drinkers, we often had a martini or a G&T. We toyed with the idea of making tonic water. But then, at 3 a.m. one morning, I got a text from Stu, “Hey, why don’t we just do some gin?” I started looking at artisanal distillation.
Stu had a successful PR agency, but I quit my job to start Four Pillars Gin. I was terrified. I remember I was about to put down an $85,000 deposit on our first still. I phoned Stu and he said, “That’s ridiculous. You have done all the work. Take a pen and write these words: ‘Ready. Fire. Objective. Pull the trigger.’ “He hung up. I paid the deposit. It was this confidence, this optimism in him which said: ‘shoot before you aim, it will work’. I always have ‘ready, fire, aim’ which resonates in my ears.
“There is nothing that cannot be finished at the end of the day over a gin and tonic.”
I make gin, Stu makes noise. It’s still buzzing. I admire that in him. We built an incredibly good team because he set a fun tone for the whole company. He raises a coin, defends a cause. If I asked Stu to run a marathon, he would say, “No, fuck. But if I said it was to raise money for sick kids, he’d say, “I think I could win that. Because he can be so irreverent, people are often unaware of how clever he is. People think he’s an idiot, but he hates it when he’s not the smartest guy in the room.
Sometimes I act like a conscience in the company. Not everything works out and, having a background in athletics, I can be quite scathing in the event of a defeat. When I make a mistake, I lose sleep. Stu will just say “My bad” and move on. There are times when I wish I could be like that and times when I wish Stu was a little tougher on us. We can have heartbreaking arguments – if he feels we’re not moving fast enough, if I’m cleaning up someone else’s mess – but neither of us will hold a grudge. There is nothing that cannot be finished at the end of the day over a gin and tonic.
Stu is my family. I appreciate his friendship and his advice and his humor and his ability to get me out of my pessimism. He’s definitely the most interesting guy I know.