Whisky gets Royal nod and a dash of water

Eat & Drink

The Rolls Royce and Bentley Enthusiasts Club noticed this whisky in a boutique bottle shop in London and invited the team to put forward a whisky for the Royal event.
Head distiller Beau and managing director Dean | Image source: Supplied.

In little over a decade an abandoned flour mill on the banks of the Murray River on the NSW/Victorian border, purchased for just a dollar, has become Corowa Distilling Co, attracting worldwide attention with inclusion in official Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebrations and countless awards.

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 the grandfathers of whisky 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, 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,” says Druce.

Dean Druce with whisky in glass
Dean Druce | Image source: Supplied

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

“The Rolls Royce and Bentley Enthusiasts Club noticed our whisky in a boutique bottle shop in London and invited us to put forward a whisky for the Royal event.”

“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,” says Druce.

“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.

“It was five years old, which is older than we’d ever produced and it has a great richness to it,” he explains.

Once selected, the team sought 2,022 bottles of the fine port cask whisky, the number of bottles to match the year of the Jubilee, with a special cork stopper.

“The limited edition 700ml bottle is packaged in a one-of-a-kind purple gift box that includes a one dollar coin embedded into the door, as an ode to our beginnings in Corowa.

“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,” he laughs.

Dean in the field | Image source: Supplied

Druce said a big focus of Corowa Distilling Co has always been the community.

“Corowa has a population of just 7,000, and we are so proud that our whisky is made here, by us.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child, well it takes a community to support a business.

“We want to change the mold that whisky is an old man’s drink because it’s not.” 

“Whisky making is all about the conditions. We can try to make the same barrel everyday, but the temperature affects how the grain reacts and sometimes the alcohol inside picks up the old oak or the newer oak of the barrel.”

Corowa Distilling is very specific about the type of barley used. Small but mighty, it creates the flavour which defines the distinctive Corowa character. Using traditional varieties that have now become scarce, they use barley that was once exported to Scotland.

The organic grains are sourced from Dean’s family farm and work with local farmers who have been harvesting the land for generations.

Head distiller Beau on the water
Head distiller Beau on the water | Image source: Supplied

There’s a little bit of the Murray in every bottle. Starting from the pristine snowy mountains of the Great Dividing Range, the famous Murray River flows past Corowa on its 2,500km journey. Lending some of its purity to the whisky, the river imparts something special into the flavour of the Corowa drop.

Cold nights and hot days make the ideal climate for maturing whisky. Thankfully, Corowa is blessed with both. The temperature changes at least 15°C each day, allowing the spirit to naturally mature at a faster rate and extract flavours the rest of the world can’t. These extreme temperatures bring exceptional complexity and character to our whisky in a time-frame that’s the envy of many other distilleries.

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