When Dean Druce took over the abandoned Corowa Flour Mill over a decade ago, he never imagined that he would one day be delivering whisky to the Queen.
“From all reports she loves a good whisky, so hopefully she likes ours,” he says with a smile.
Dean and the Corowa Distilling Co team are preparing to supply the UK’s Rolls Royce and Bentley club with a sample of their best bottles for a Platinum Jubilee event in October.
“It’s been quite a long and arduous task to get it up to the stage where it is,” he explains.
“Trying to put that bit of spit and polish on the Corowa brand … to make sure that we’re worthy of the Platinum Jubilee.”
The journey to the Jubilee began in 2009 when Dean and his father Neil purchased the abandoned mill for $1 with the promise to revitalise the heritage-listed site.
Building off the success of their previous venture, the Junee Licorice & Chocolate Factory, Dean says they decided to do something different with another local grain.
“We had an abundance of barley on the farm and Australian whisky was just taking 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 whisky distilleries in Australia, so we were very lucky with our timing.”
The aspiring distillers learned their craft in Tasmania with Bill Lark (Lark Distillery) and spent time in Scotland visiting some of the world’s leading operations.
Dean says the “Speyside” method from Scotland’s northeast, of maturing spirits in vintage barrels used for fortified wines and bourbons, inspired their approach.
“It’s the barrel that does the talking and that hit home for us,” he says.
“You have that nice fruity floral style and the barrel has a significant influence on the flavour.
“It’s also something everyone can drink as opposed to an island-style that can be very polarising.”
Corowa’s vicinity 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’ve been able to get a hold of their vintage port barrels, their muscats and all their other different styles of barrel,” he says.
“We use them to create that nice big sweet sticky style whisky.”
Corowa also produces bourbon cask whiskies and they have been experimenting with some very different flavours.
Dean says they are keen to respect the heritage of the craft but are also happy to try something different – like ageing their spirits in Red Bull-infused casks.
“Surprisingly, it just tastes very… Red Bully,” he smiles.
“It just carries its flavour through so well and when the carbonation is gone it’s just nice and mellow.”
2022 has been a big year for Corowa Distilling Co as they took out the “Best Aussie Whisky” award at Dan Murphy’s.
“We were absolutely chuffed with that and it has definitely helped us to go to the next level and get that national distribution,” Dean says.
And while the upcoming trip to the UK feels like “a bit of a myth”, it reflects a growing respect for the Aussie tipple.
“Australian whisky is going ahead in leaps and bounds and it seems to be winning more international awards in the whisky category than Scottish whisky and Irish whiskey combined at the moment,” he says.
“So as far as Australia is concerned, we are almost leading the charge at the moment.”
And while Queen Elizabeth is known to be partial to the occasional dram, Dean hopes their whisky goes down smoothly for the 96-year-old monarch.
“We’d never want to be known as the brand that knocks the Queen off her perch, but I guess you’ve got to be known for something these days,” he says.