Located on the banks of the Murray River in southern NSW, Corowa is a small, yet popular tourist trap best known for its wineries. Arguably the most interesting story to come out of the region in recent years, at least to our readers, is the tale of the historical real estate sold for a ridiculously low price and what the new owners did with that property.
It was 2009 when Neil and Dean Druce purchased the derelict Corowa Flour Mill for the low, low sum of $1. It sure sounds like a steal, although a decade earlier the NSW Government heritage listed the site and Corowa has a population of just 5,500, so even without the heritage listing there was little reason for anyone to swoop in and develop the land. In true entrepreneurial spirit, the Druces set out to restore the Flour Mill to its former glory and transform the site into Corowa’s first whisky distillery.
First opened in the 1920s, the Corowa Flour Mill played a significant role in the local economy, exporting flour across the world. Eventually, the Murray River gave way, and the mill was forced to close, being left to expire by 1970. Over the next forty years, the mill changed ownership several times but remained unused until the Druces handed over a shiny gold dollar and took ownership.
The Druces were serious about their whisky and future business, so they travelled between Tasmania and Scotland to learn the tools of the trade. In Tasmania they worked will Bill Lark of Lark distillery who just so happens to be the ‘Godfather’ of Australian whisky. In Scotland, Dean worked with Kilchoman, a new distillery at the time, to get an idea of how one goes about starting a distillery from scratch.
In May 2015, after heavy restoration work to the mill, the father and son team were finally ready to begin producing whisky under the moniker Corowa Distilling Co. The distillery space was set up in what used to be the silo storage.
Corowa Distilling Co was fixated on having their copper stills hand made in Australia, in the hope of producing a whisky that was truly Australian. Eventually finding a craftsman in Griffith around 250km to the north, they had two custom copper stills crafted then placed in front of an original hand-crafted 1920’s 18-metre-tall brick wall.
Once they had the materials, Neil and Dean recruited a head distiller, Beau who’s more commonly known as the “Dreaded Distiller” for his iconic hairstyle.
In March 2016, Corowa Distilling Co was finally ready to lay down its first barrel of whisky. Following the first batch, they experimented by producing a lot of whisky without having any real idea of how it would turn out.
In August 2018, after two and a half years, Corowa Distilling Co. released 320 bottles of its first batch appropriately named the “First Drop.” The product sold out in less than 24 hours, so they immediately rolled-out a second batch.
In the 7-to-8 months since the First Drop, Corowa Distilling Co. is already up to its 7th release, and the response has been greater than they could have ever imagined.
Corowa Distilling Co. has never been interested in mass producing whisky, preferring to remain a boutique brand. The on-site tasting room is where the party is at, but if you can’t find your way to Corowa, several of the whiskies are available for purchase online.
They include the single cask “Mad Dog” Morgan, named after the bushranger who roamed the Corowa region and bottles of Bosque Verde, a port cask whisky and Corowa’s second release.
Images – Sue Davis Photography