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Wednesday 30 November 2022

Small town whisky distiller on the global stage

A once rundown flour mill in small country town has been transformed into an award-winning whisky distillery.

The abandoned flour mill on the banks of the Murray River on the NSW/Victorian border was purchased for just a dollar just over decade ago but Corowa Distilling Co. was included in official Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebrations.

At 21 years of age and with little knowledge of whisky, founder Dean Druce returned to Australia after a two year working holiday on the Canadian ski fields to transform the Corowa property, learning from whisky gurus John MacLellan and Jim McEwan in Scotland as well as expert Australian distiller Bill Lark in Tasmania.

“The property was dilapidated with no roof, missing 650 panes of glass, and no floor, while the mains needed to be connected so the local council sold it to us for $1 after we pitched the idea for a whisky distillery,” Druce recalls.

“We now have 1000 barrels on site with 30% year-on-year growth, employing 50 people and were one of only two whisky distilleries invited to create a signature whisky for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

“I initially thought it was too good to be true; even thinking it might be a scam, so I asked a representative from the Department of Trade and Investment to check and it was legitimate.

“Over the next 12 months we carefully selected a whisky from a single barrel, with a rare and unique flavour profile, which sounds like a difficult job, but basically we had to keep tasting whisky until we found the right blend.

“The barrel we selected has a rich dark chocolate note with a cherry ripe type of aftertaste. Not stewed cherries but more of a sweeter taste with a hint of hazelnut and it’s nice and syrupy.

“It’s a luxurious whisky with rich, decadent fruits, sweet vanillin, and a hint of rosewater, reminiscent of delicate Turkish delight."

Once selected, the team bottled 2,022 bottles of the port cask whisky - the number of bottles to match the year of the Jubilee, - and sealed them with a special stopper.

The limited-edition 700ml bottle - which retails for $950 - is packaged in a one-of-a-kind purple gift box that includes a one dollar coin embedded into the door, a nod to their beginnings in Corowa."

Druce says: “The alcohol volume is also 52% which was again a really nice touch, given Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1952.

“I went to London for the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, me a bloke from Corowa sitting with earls and barons and members of the Royal family, but I couldn’t tell you what their names were."

Fortunately for those without platinum credit cards, other whiskies start from $80 a bottle. 

Druce says community plays a big role at Corowa Distilling Co.

“Corowa has a population of just 7,000, and we are so proud that our whisky is made here, by us," he says. "They say it takes a village to raise a child, well it takes a community to support a business."

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