The NSW man wanted to transform this product from “elite” to everyday and in the past year broke his $1.3 million sales budget.
When Dean Druce got the chance to buy an old council flour mill for $1, he thought he’d hit the jackpot.
He had a business idea and the place was perfect to launch it.
“Back then you buy something for $1 and you think how good this is, but it took so much work,” he told news.com.au.
“They should have paid us to take it over. The roof was missing, every window was missing, the building was not straight and there were no utilities such as gas, electricity, a telephone line or water.
“I quickly realized that there was a lot more work needed than expected, but we knew where we wanted to go and how to solve it.”
Eighteen months of renovations later, the mill was ready for Mr Druce to launch his whiskey distillery, but it was another four years before it could be opened to the public.
During the renovations eight years ago, Mr. Druce that they were refining the whiskey’s flavor profile after coming up with the idea in 2010.
“We looked around 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 winery casks and a great climate for making whiskey… It was a nice little fit as our family, we grew up on a farm, we came from the rural farming background … and all ingredients along the way come from the farm.”
The 33-year-old’s research involved learning how to make whiskey in both Tasmania and Scotland using the ancient traditional methods.
The aim was to make a fruity and fragrant whiskey that was big on the taste but easy to drink rather than having a big kick, said Mr Druce.
NSW based Corowa Distilling Co was officially launched in August 2018 with a celebration to remember.
“380 people attended, including the acting Prime Minister (who) flew in and the owners of Scotch whiskeys came over and landed in a private jet to attend the event and then flew home,” he said.
“It was very special for us.”
All 320 bottles of whiskey they made were also sold out at the party.
“We enjoyed a honeymoon there where everything we bottled we sold,” he added.
But since then, business has continued to grow with Corowa Distilling Co, which sold about 20,000 bottles in the past fiscal year and exceeded its sales budget of $1.3 million.
Mr Druce said his drink offers a “nice entry” whiskey that sells for $95, adding that there are hardly any Australian single malt whiskeys selling for under $100.
“We make whiskey so other people can enjoy it — not to sit in a barrel and age forever,” 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 would always be our mantra.
“It means people can get into that Australian single malt disc without breaking the bank.”
Recently Corowa Distilling was named Best Australian Whiskey with its Characters Single Malt whiskey as part of Dan Murphy’s inaugural Decoded Spirits Awards.
It means that the brand’s whiskey, previously stocked in 10 local Dan Murphy’s stores, will now be offered in nearly 260 retail outlets nationwide.
Mr Druce said the recognition was “surreal” even if he thinks ghost game prizes may be “overrated”, but said it will also mean the company is no longer “somewhat obscure”.
“I don’t like prizes. I think prices in the ghost game are overrated — there’s no content and no mechanism to start selling your product, you still have to work just as hard to sell the product,” he said.
“But Dan Murphy’s is an outlet and retailer that’s going to buy it because of the awards.”
Australian whiskey is a fast-growing category, with Dan Murphy’s seeing sales double in the last 12 months and the category is now growing faster than craft gin, which has seen an explosion in sales in recent years.
Dan Murphy’s spirits category manager and Decoded Spirits judge James Duvnjak said the two biggest drink trends are in alcohol: customers wanting to support local producers and drink less but better, and Australian whiskey ticks both boxes.
“Customers are beginning to discover that Australian whiskey can compete on the global stage when it comes to flavor and complexity. There are some great flavors and stories to discover from distilleries in our own backyard,” he said.
“While Australian whiskey is often compared to single malt Scotch when it comes to taste, it is unique.
“Australian distillers tend to use old wine and port casks to age whiskey more than producers in other countries, simply because of our local wine industry. If the cask was filled with port or wine before it was filled with whiskey, it will also absorb these flavors from the cask.”
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