When Dean Druce took over the abandoned Corowa Flour Mill more than a decade ago, he never imagined he would one day deliver whiskey to the Queen.
“From all reports, she likes a good whisky, so I hope she likes ours,” he said with a smile.
Dean and the Corowa Distilling Co team are preparing to supply British club Rolls Royce and Bentley with a sample of their finest bottles for a Platinum Jubilee event in October.
“It was quite a long and arduous task to get it to where it is,” he explains.
“Trying to put that bit of drool and polish on the Corowa brand…to make sure we deserve the platinum jubilee.”
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The journey to Jubilee began in 2009 when Dean and his father Neil bought the derelict mill for $1 with the promise of revitalizing the heritage site.
Building on the success of their previous business, the Junee Licorice & Chocolate Factory, Dean says they decided to do something different with another local bean.
“We had an abundance of barley on the farm and Australian whiskey was just starting to take off,” he says.
“There were only 10 distilleries in Australia then, so it was a good opportunity. Fast forward to now and there are 520 whiskey distilleries in Australia, so we’ve been very lucky with our timing.
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The aspiring distillers learned their craft in Tasmania with Bill Lark (Lark Distillery) and spent time in Scotland visiting some of the largest operations in the world.
Dean says the “Speyside” method of northeast Scotland, of aging spirits in vintage barrels used for fortified wines and bourbons, inspired their approach.
“It’s the barrel that talks and touches us,” he says.
“You have this lovely fruity floral style and the cask has a significant influence on the flavor.
“It’s also something anyone can drink, as opposed to an island style which can be very polarizing.”
Corowa’s proximity to nearby Rutherglen also offered a ready supply of barrels.
“Rutherglen is known as one of the best fortified wine regions in the world. We were able to get our hands on their vintage port casks, Muscats and all their other cask styles,” he says.
“We use them to create this nice big, sweet, sticky whisky.”
Corowa also produces bourbon cask whiskeys and they have experimented with very different flavors.
Dean says they’re keen to uphold the heritage of craftsmanship, but are also happy to try something different, like aging their spirits in Red Bull-infused barrels.
“Amazingly, it just tastes very…Red Bully,” he smiles.
“It carries its flavor so well and when the carbonation is gone, it’s just nice and chewy.”
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2022 was a big year for Corowa Distilling Co as they won the ‘Best Australian Whiskey’ award at Dan Murphy’s.
“We were absolutely thrilled with that and it definitely helped us take it to the next level and get that national distribution,” Dean said.
And although the upcoming trip to the UK looks like “a bit of a myth”, it reflects a growing respect for the Australian drink.
“Australian whiskey is growing by leaps and bounds and it seems to be winning more international whiskey awards than Scotch whiskey and Irish whiskey combined at the moment,” he says.
“So when it comes to Australia, we’re almost leading the charge right now.”
And while Queen Elizabeth is known to have a thing for the occasional dram, Dean hopes their whiskey turns out well for the 96-year-old monarch.
“We would never want to be known as the brand that knocks the queen off her perch, but I guess you must be known for something these days,” he says.
Original article published by Chris Roe on Region Riverina.