The Genius of Australian $1 Whiskey Makers

The NSW man wanted to turn this ‘elite’ product into an everyday product and over the past year he has smashed his $1.3million sales budget.

When Dean Druce had the opportunity to buy an old council flour mill for $1, he thought he had hit the jackpot.

He had a business idea and the place was perfect to launch it.

“Back then you would buy something for $1 and think how good it was, but it took so much work,” he told news.com.au.

“They should have paid us to take it back. The roof was missing, all the glass was missing, the building was not straight and there were no services such as gas, electricity, a telephone line or water.

“I quickly realized it needed a lot more work than expected, but we knew where we wanted to go and how to fix it.”

Eighteen months of renovations later, the mill was ready for Mr Druce to launch his whiskey distillery, but it took another four years of repairs before it could be opened to the public.

During renovations eight years ago, Mr Druce said they were fine-tuning the whiskey’s flavor profile after coming up with the idea in 2010.

“We looked at how many other whiskey distilleries there were in Australia and there were 10 to 20 at most, so we saw a niche,” he explained.

“Australia has some of the best barley in the world and the best vineyard casks and an ideal climate for making whiskey… It was a nice little fit for our family, we grew up on a farm, we come from a rural background… and all the ingredients along the way are sourced from the farm.”

The 33-year-old’s research included learning how to make whiskey in Tasmania and Scotland using old traditional methods.

The goal was to make a fruity, fragrant whiskey that had plenty of flavor but was easy to drink rather than heavy on the kick, Druce said.

New South Wales-based Corowa Distilling Co officially launched in August 2018 with a memorable party.

“There were 380 people in attendance, including the Acting Prime Minister (who) flew in and the Scotch Whiskey owners came and landed in a private jet to attend the event and then flew home,” did he declare.

“It was extremely special for us.”

The 320 bottles of whiskey they created also sold out at the party.

“We enjoyed a honeymoon period there where everything we bottled was sold out,” he added.

But business has continued to boom since then, with Corowa Distilling Co selling around 20,000 bottles in the last fiscal year and exceeding its sales budget by $1.3 million.

Mr Druce said his liquor offered a “good entry point” whiskey, selling for $95, adding that there were hardly any Australian single malt whiskeys selling for less than $100.

“We make whiskey so other people can enjoy it – not so that it sits in a barrel forever and ages,” he said.

“We didn’t want to make it elitist. We wanted an everyday drinker and consumer to buy it, enjoy it and talk about whiskey – that was always going to be our mantra.

“It means people can get into that slice of Australian single malt without breaking the bank.”

Recently, Corowa Distilling received the award for Best Australian Whiskey with its Characters Single Malt Whiskey as part of Dan Murphy’s inaugural Decoded Spirits Awards.

This means that the brand’s whisky, which was previously stocked in 10 local Dan Murphy’s stores, will now be offered in nearly 260 outlets nationwide.

Mr Druce said the recognition was “surreal”, although he thinks the rewards in the spiritual game may be “overstated”, but said it would also mean the company would no longer be “slightly obscure”.

“I don’t like rewards. I think the rewards in the spirits game are overstated – there’s no substance and no mechanism to go and sell your product, you still have to work just as hard to sell the product,” he said.

“But Dan Murphy’s is an outlet and a retailer that’s going to buy it because of the awards.”

Australian whiskey is a rapidly growing category, with Dan Murphy’s having seen sales double in the past 12 months and the category is now growing faster than craft gin, which has seen a sales boom in recent years.

Dan Murphy’s spirits category manager and Decoded Spirits judge James Duvnjak said the two biggest trends in alcoholic beverages are customers wanting to support local producers and drink less but better, and whiskey Australian ticks both boxes.

“Customers have begun to discover that Australian whiskey can compete on the world stage for flavor and complexity. There are great flavors and stories to explore in our own backyard distilleries,” he said.

“Although Australian whiskey is often compared to single malt Scotch when it comes to flavor, it is distinctly unique.

“Australian distillers tend to use old wine and port barrels to age whiskey more than producers in other countries, simply because of our local wine industry. If the barrel has been filled with port or wine before being filled with whiskey, it will also capture those flavors from the barrel.

Read related topics:Australian small business

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