In 2009, Dean Druce purchased a disused and dilapidated flour mill with the dream of establishing a premium distillery.
Fast forward to 2017, and his business, Corowa Distilling Co., was named one of the world’s top 10 up-and-coming distilleries by international publication The Spirits Business, thanks in part to assistance from the Regional Economic Diversification Program.
Dean – who also owns the Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory, also based in a restored flour mill – famously acquired the 1924 Corowa Flour Mills for just $1.
There began the arduous process of restoring the derelict buildings and converting them into an organic whiskey production facility, chocolate factory, café and function centre.
In 2014, diversification program funding was used to acquire two copper stills that were custom-made in
Griffith in the hope of producing truly Australian whisky varieties. The financing also helped to fireproof and waterproof the mill buildings, complete electrical works and construct a car park.
Having recruited head distiller Beau Schilg, distillery operations finally began in March 2016.
“Australian whisky must be stored in wood for a minimum of two years,” Beau explains. “So all our whisky had to go into barrels until at least 2018.
“We made our whisky using barley grown on the Druce family’s organically certified property. We stored it in tawny port barrels, old sherry barrels and ex-bourbon barrels. Then we just waited patiently.”
In August 2018, after two and a half years of maturation, Corowa Distilling Co. released 320 bottles of its first whisky batch. The product sold out in less than 24 hours.
Today, the company is selling Australia’s first organic varieties of whisky, brandy and rum in major liquor outlets, bottle shops and bars all over the country. It is also developing export markets in the USA, France and Japan.
This success, along with high demand for wedding receptions and other functions at the unique Corowa site, has seen employment levels leap. With just five full-time staff prior to the program investment, Corowa
Distilling Co. now employs 44 local people (24 full-time and 20 part-time).
It is also helping to stimulate the regional economy by continuing to support its Whitton-based malt supplier, while creating additional income opportunities for hoteliers, moteliers and other tourism operators in and around Corowa.
Even after all the hard work, Dean Druce still dares to dream of bigger things for Corowa Distilling Co.
“In the next six to 12 months, we’ll expand our sales and marketing team and recruit an experienced warehouse manager,” he says.
“Within the next five years, we intend to be a whisky brand of international significance and we’re aiming to win the world award for whisky by 2025.”