THE Murray River town of Corowa could soon be the whisky capital of the world.The town's derelict flour mill is being transformed into a whisky distillery by a Junee organic licorice and chocolate company.
Company director Neil Druce said whisky production at Corowa would start with the world's biggest whisky tasting.
Idle for 30 years, the mill was sold for $1 by Corowa Shire Council on the condition the building would be restored within a set time frame.
The mill has boosted Corowa tourism since undergoing a $300,000 refit and opening for retail chocolate sales in June.
Mr Druce, his son, Dean, and business partner Max Reid have created a retail store, coffee shop and function centre.
Dean said five varieties of single malt whisky would be made at the Corowa mill.
"We will be selling finished product imported from Scotland, while we wait for our whisky to mature," he said.
"Malt spirit has to sit in barrels for two years."
Each 200-litre barrel needs 600kg of malt barley.
"In full production, we expect to do four to five barrels using 2.5 tonnes of barley a week," Dean said.
The Druce family has been farming in the Riverina for generations.
Neil's father, Alan, is regarded as the patriarch of organics in Australia.
Alan began growing crops and producing livestock along organic principles at Ardlethan in 1962.
There was little research available and, according to Neil, the weeds grew higher than the crops.
"By the end of the 1970s, the crops were enormous and Dad was hosting field days," Neil said.
A decade later, Australian National University spent $1.4 million on a research project on organic farming, using the Druce farm as a case study.
"In 1998, we had an idea to value-add to our organic wheat by milling flour," Neil said.
"We were able to buy a derelict flour mill in Junee, but needed to step into a product without competition.
"Licorice was suggested, as it contains at least 30 per cent wheat flour."
There were no organic licorice producers in Australia at the time.
With no background in confectionery, Neil visited Sydney licorice manufacturers and asked for help on old-fashioned recipes.
"We then packed up our car with licorice and drove to Melbourne, stopping along the way at health food shops," Neil said.
"We found shops in a few city suburbs and sold 400kg for the trip."
That performance was repeated in Sydney and a lucrative market was born.
The next step was to combine licorice and chocolate using a second-hand chocolate factory found in a Brisbane airport hangar.
Glass panelling allowing visitors to see the chocolate making process kicked off tourism at the Junee mill.
"We were told tourism wouldn't work in Junee - visitor numbers were just 6000 a year," Neil said.
"When we opened the chocolate factory, we planned for 500 people, but 6000 attended."
Today, visitor numbers in Junee have risen to 92,000, largely thanks to the factory.
The mill is one of few organic licorice makers in the world, with 22 products on the shelves.