top of page

Deep Cuts with Beau Schilg

In the intricate world of whiskey making, the relationship between the barrel and the booze is paramount.

'70-80% of the flavour actually comes from the barrel,' says Beau Schlig, the head distiller of the Corowa Distillery Company. Beau - also known as 'the dreaded distiller' for his head of thick dreads - places great weight on the selection of the barrel, from the type of oak used to the charring and toasting of the wood, as even the finest spirit can be diminished by a poor choice.


There's something almost alchemical about the pairing of the wood and the whiskey, requiring both perfectionism and creativity. These dual pursuits represent a golden opportunity for a small business working in the emerging Australian whiskey landscape, seeking to compete against the whiskey heavyweights in Scotland and Japan.


'Is it proving to be a preferred drink? Look at Sullivan's Cove,' says Beau proudly. 'They won world's best whiskey and world's best single cask a couple of times. So it is one of those things that people are deciding to look for. Not to say Scotch whiskey is bad! I still love my Islay, I still like my Japanese whiskey. But  you can tell when it's an Australian whiskey.'


And why is that? Australian whiskey offers something unique. A diverse climate, particularly the significant temperature variations across the country, facilitate a faster interaction between the spirit and the wood, resulting in bold, flavour-driven whiskeys. This embracing of Australia's climate, landscapes and ingredients is central to the culture than Beau and other distillers are seeking to create:


'We do import some barrels from Spain and America, but we try to source locally, especially for fortified barrels,' he says. 'Using local resources is a luxury and happens naturally. Our malt comes from Voyager Craft Malt, the smallest but most flexible malting sheds in Australia. It's all about supporting local and maintaining quality.'


This emphasis on the Australian-made adds authenticity and a sense of place to Corowa's whiskey - one batch might comprise the use of barrels from the Borossa, stills made in Grifith and barley grown locally in Corowa, drawing together flavours in a deep-rooted tapestry of the land.


However, in creating these new flavours, Beau and his team can't simply let the climate do the work. This kind of creation is a dance between tradition and innovation. He's crafted a core range at Corowa that serves as the backbone of the distillery's offering, but ventures into the experimental to push the boundaries of his craft - whether single barrel release or a 'dreaded drop' (so named, again, for Beau's impressive locs). These experiments are not whimsical but deeply thought-out, often involving collaborations, like those with Voyager for malt or importing peat from Scotland to add a smoky twist. Each barrel, carefully chosen and aged, becomes a storyteller, with whispers of the ancient makers mingling with the verve and innovation of the new.


Such considered work takes time - plenty of time, in fact, for Beau to work on his craft:


'Even though I've been doing this for ten years, I'm still training my palette and looking for different flavours,' says Beau. 'Tasting means no ice, no water, and always in the morning, when the taste buds are at their best. But I do it in the morning so that I'm ok to drive by the time I go home'.


Occupational hazards...

For the uninitiated whiskey-drinker, understanding these processes behind the spirit can enhance appreciation. Seeing the craftsmanship involved, from hand-bottling to the unique characteristics of small-scale production, helps us to value the quality and effort that goes into each bottle. This is perhaps why Beau's team has been tapped to create specialty whiskeys for high-profile clients, such as Larry or the Queen's Jubilee, involving meticulous planning and attention to detail. The Jubilee whiskey was a particular challenge:


'It was a quite a lengthy process. How many bottles are we going to do? How much liquid do we need? What size should the bottle be? What should it's story be overall?  We went back to our origin story of chocolate cherries and liquorice, in 52 bottles to honour the year she became the monarch. When you're on the world stage you have to be a bit more pedantic!'


After such a celebration of the past, is it time to look to the future? It's no secret that Australians - and many others around the world - are feeling the economic pinch, but does the reticence to spend extend to spirits? Fortunately, no, says Beau - there's a growing number of distilleries and increasing interest in both affordable and exclusive whiskeys. And with Corowa's offerings extending from $95 a bottle to the $3000 Jubilee whiskey, there really is something for everyone.


Even if that means accepting that some people will drink theirs with Coke...

Related Posts

See All


bottom of page