Even though Australia was part of a world trip I had planned back in 2009, trappings of the heart led me astray and it is still a destination I have yet to discover. Luckily, our next journey takes us to the heart of this wonderful country, with a Melbourne based whisky distillery that uses the abundance of local resources; craft beer knowledge, quality red wine production and elemental distillation that is all captured in some truly delicious, affordable, award-winning whiskies…
It’s no surprise David Vitale has an obsession for food, coming from a big Italian family and living amongst the eclectic and innovative food and beverage culture of Melbourne, which all contributed towards him developing a focus on flavor and a desire to find something better. In 2007, he started his journey with a simple vision; to create a uniquely Australian whisky that can be offered to the world with pride. He didn’t want to copy others or follow convention, but instead used the wealth of brewing and wine making knowledge within Melbourne to help craft whisky. Using locally sourced produce, Australian wine barrels and embracing the ‘four seasons in one day’ climate of Melbourne, in just three years, Starward was able to produce whisky that pushes the boundaries of what whisky can be. And in 2022, they have become the most Awarded Distillery of the year… Job done I would say!
Although they tend to avoid the rules, there are three guiding principles that they stick to; Flavour, Provenance, Intervention.
Using a darker coloured Australian Malted Barley that is prepared for brewing craft beer, along with a house blend of brewing and distilling yeast, combines to produce a wash that captures the signature Starward profile; complex, fruity and aromatic. Adapted Stills further enhance the wash during distillation to produce a light and fruity new make spirit that is robust enough to maintain consistency throughout the varied climate of the year, and also allows for small batch experimentation.
They want to make a whisky that captures the essence of Melbourne, so source all their produce from within a day’s drive, working closely with local farmers, growers, winemakers, traders and maltsers. Australian winemakers have championed innovation for decades, so it was obvious to the team at Starward that they should use these iconic barrels from wineries such as Penfolds, Wolf Blass and Di-Bortoli. Working closely with the winemakers to understand how they could maximize the flavours in each barrel, they carefully select a range of sizes and fill them when they are still wet with their 55% ABV new make spirit. This is lower than many traditional whiskies, but the dry weather in Melbourne leads to greater water evaporation and therefore the strength of the spirit actually rises during maturation.
This refers to a minimal intervention approach, where they take the semi virgin oak (American and French) red wine barrels as soon after disgorging as possible, give them a quick cleansing blast or light charring and then fill them with their new make spirit. This allows the interaction between spirit and wood to start as early as possible; retaining the flavor, texture and essence of Australian red wine that provides depth and complexity, whilst capturing the very provenance of Starward Whisky.
On a typical summer’s day, the weather in Melbourne can fluctuate up to 12.5 degrees centigrade and even in the winter months there is a greater temperature variance than many of the traditional whisky making countries. The Arctic breeze blasts the city from the South, whilst the harsh desert winds come in from the north, and Melbourne is a much drier place providing so much variance that the city has a reputation for experiencing ‘four seasons in one day.’ But this weird and wonderful climate has an amazing impact on whisky maturation, working the barrels a lot harder and creating greater interaction between spirit and wood within a short amount of time. The team have played with maturation time and found that only 3 Melbourne years is required to produce some truly wonderful whiskies.
Starward have always strived to create approachable and affordable whiskies that can be enjoyed neat, in a cocktail and with food. All their whiskies carry the provenance based on their use of Australian red wine barrels, but each whisky differs; with the use of Australian malted Barley to provide a tropical fruit character, wheat for a more dry and aromatic balance, the influence of big bold reds like Shiraz and Cabernet, or the rich flavours of a fortified Apera.
Nova - Their signature single malt focuses on flavour by filling barrels that are only lightly charred or steamed, at a lower ABV and using the reactive Melbourne climate to allow the whisky to take on all the flavour of the barrels. A deliciously balanced whisky with notes of Berries, orchard fruits, vanilla, caramel and spice.
Left-Field - Left-field is very unique to Starward, only using 100% French oak, celebrating the barrels that have contained some of Australia’s biggest and boldest red wines. Smooth and delicious, it was deliberately crafted to be enjoyed however you want... Notes of tropical fruits, red berries, ginger beer, vanilla and toasted oak.
Fortis - A full bodied and fully flavoured whisky that is bottled at 50% ABV and is fully matured in American Oak barrels, predominantly from the Barossa Valley. Big reds were the former occupants of these barrels and offer a fuller, richer mouth feel, along with notes of vanilla pods, chocolate ganache, cinnamon and banana bread.
Ginger Beer Cask - The most popular and sought after project to date, this whisky uses a secretly guarded Ginger Beer recipe and a combination of ex-Starward whisky, red wine and Apera (Fortified wine) barrels to produce a whisky filled with spicy ginger, vanilla, pineapple and dark fruits.
Relentless innovation from Starward has merged old world techniques to produce an approachable and versatile new world whisky. Left-Field is very unique to Starward, only using 100% French oak, celebrating the barrels that have contained some of Australia’s biggest and boldest red wines from the Yarra and Barossa regions. Smooth and delicious, it was deliberately crafted to be enjoyed however you want; mixed, shaken or built... A rich mouth feel and notes of tropical fruit, red berries, vanilla spice and toasted oak. Double Gold winner at this year’s SFWS Awards! Why not try in a Ginger Cooler; Left-Field, lemon juice, Ginger Beer and a garnish, all over ice. Perfect for the summer!
Meaning ‘brave or bold,’ Fortis is a full bodied, full flavoured whisky that is bottled at 50% ABV and is fully matured in American Oak barrels, predominantly from the Barossa Valley. Big reds like Cabernet and Shiraz were the former occupants of these barrels and offer a fuller, richer mouth feel, along with notes of vanilla pods, quince, chocolate ganache, Muscadelle raisin, cinnamon and banana bread. Double Gold winner at this year’s SFWS Awards! Amazing flavours to be enjoyed neat or with a drop of water, but also works amazingly in a Manhattan; Fortis, vermouth and orange bitters, over ice and garnish!