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Starward Whisky

Starward Whisky

Mention Australian whisky to an amateur drinker and the conversation inevitably turns to Tasmanian distilleries like Sullivans Cove, Lark Distillery and Nant.

But mention it to a whisky writer, sommelier, bartender or collector, and the word ‘Starward’ is uttered almost immediately.  This craft whisky, distilled in a former Qantas hangar in Essendon, has captured more than just the hearts and minds of Australian aficionados – a few weeks ago it bagged double gold at the San Francisco Wold Spirits Competition as well.

For Starward’s now formidable distiller, David Vitale, it all started with craft beer.  In a previous life he ran an online education service for financial advisors, but gave it all up to pursue his dream of becoming a craft brewer.  When he realised the market potential for Australian craft spirits, he quickly changed tack.

“I had a passion for [drinking] craft beer… and was captivated by the idea that there could also be a craft whisky industry,” David has said.  “That was 2004, and I haven’t looked back.”

Naturally, David’s next step was to spend three years working for the Grandfather of Australian whisky – Bill Lark of Lark Distillery in Tasmania. Then he took the skills he’d honed, matched it with a clear, concise vision to create an accessible, local whisky that could become a major player on the world stage, and took the plunge.

The result, an amber single malt, is something variously described as ‘robust’, ‘complex’ and ‘ethereal’.  But medals speak louder than words.  SF Global Spirits Competition aside, Starward’s wine cask edition also picked up Best Australian Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards back in May.

Because Starward’s maturation period is so much shorter than almost every other whisky  - a feat made possible, David explains, by Melbourne’s notoriously fickle weather – it was on the shelves only a couple of years after the first drop was barreled.

“Melbourne’s four seasons in a day make our barrels the hardest working barrels in the world,” David explains. The ever-changing weather causes Starward’s used Australian red wine barrels to expand and retract more quickly than those in cooler climes, so flavour extraction is fast tracked.  In fact, Starward whiskies only require two-and-a-half-to-three years to mature, rather than the four years normally prescribed.

The quick returns, time-to-market advantage and scalability that this quick maturation period creates have allowed Starward to increase production and, more importantly, build one of the longest whisky bars in Australia - from a 30,000 litre 75 year old brandy vat.

Housed within the hangar, the tasting room might be a long way from the misty lochs of Scotland, but David couldn’t be prouder of its heritage. 

“I’d like to think that Melbourne has influenced our approach of making and packaging a single malt whisky in a modern way,” David has said. 

“We couldn’t make this whisky anywhere else.”

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Starward's Wine Cask Single Malt is available now.

Image credit: Whisky Time

With help from Vintage Cellars and The Age.