Welcome to

Whisk(e)y Reviews

JUNE 2020

with

Tyler West

and Mark Pruett

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A Glimpse Inside
Starward with Founder Dave Vitale 

I recently had the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with Starward owner Dave Vitale. Starward calls Australia home and brands itself as “Delicious, Audacious Australian Whisky”. Furthermore, their web site asks “How do you make whisky that is fundamentally different?” Their answer is “Focus on flavor. Question everything but your intuition. Make use of what’s around you. And don’t take yourself too seriously.” Needless to say, I was intrigued. Despite the time difference, Dave was nice enough to give us some of his time and answer questions. The following article is taken from our conversation and contains no direct quotes due to technical difficulties during our chat. 

Q:

What got you in to the whisky industry? And what was your first job in the whisky business?

Dave started his journey into the world of whiskey with a job at a distillery in Tasmania. Single Malt Whisky has a strong connection to the craft beer movement, and each ingredient tells a story. His first passion was home-brewed craft beer but he transitioned to whisky when he realized that it would be easier to ship across the world than beer. 

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Q:

Australia is known for making wonderful wines, and your whiskey is aged in red wine barrels. Was it always your intention to age Starward in Australian red wine barrels?

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Read Bobby's Review of
Starward's Nova
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Read Bobby's Review of
Starward's Two-Fold 

Australia makes various wines, including table and fortified wines. The fourth barrel that Starward filled was a red wine barrel. It’s proven to be very tricky to figure out how to fully age whisky in red wine barrels. So far, they’ve had great success aging whisky in fortified wine barrels. The process is a bit different for them. Soon after the wine is removed from the barrels, they fill it with their whisky. They do not char or toast the barrels before putting their whisky in. This allows the whisky to develop fruit and spice characteristics from the wine’s tannins. 

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Q:

Following on that question, how do you select the wine barrels that you mature your whisky in?

Starward has found that not every barrel that produces great wine is a good choice for their whisky. Their own winemakers select the barrels that match the flavors Starward is looking for in aging their whisky. Also of note, Starward also has their own brewers that brew up the white dog mash for their whisky. 

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Q:

What would you say makes Starward Whisky stand out from the crowd?

Starward whisky is fully aged in Australian red wine barrels. A lot of completely new flavor profiles come from red wine barrels, versus that of Port or Sherry barrels. Additionally, the influence of wine barrels gives cocktails made with Starward a new flavor profile. 

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Q:

What are your goals at Starward for the next year or so?

Starward has a strong direct to consumer base in Australia. They’re working with Drizly and Savvy in the US to get more of their products to the US consumers. So far 35 key states in the US have Starward products available. Also, about 45% of Starward’s income is from the hospitality industry.

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Q:

: Which of your offerings do you feel that consumers need to try at least once?

Starward Nova Single Malt Whisky: its components are locally sourced from within a day’s drive of the distillery. Australian Malt aged in Australian red wine barrels. Nova is a good reflection of whisky matured in red wine barrels and of Australian whisky in general.

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Q:

In that same vein, which of your whiskies is your favorite?

Dave loves all of the Starward “kids” equally. However, Twofold Double Grain Whisky (60% wheat and 40% barley) is a tip of the hat to American wheat whisky. It is is a very approachable whisky; it is matured separately and then bottled together. He sees blended whisky as an opportunity to present unique flavors. Starward’s original ethos was to be accessible on taste and price. The sweet spot is being able to present a unique range of whiskies that that people can afford to try.

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Q:

: I see that you offer a New Old Fashion cocktail already bottled. Do you prefer your whisky neat or in cocktails? Besides the Old Fashion, are there other cocktails that you feel work particularly well with Starward?

Probably equal parts neat and in cocktails. Dave admits he may favor neat whisky during the current season/climate. However, when he is hosting guests nothing gives him more pleasure than making drinks for them. A Manhattan works well, but you can also mix with soda water and bitters. One of his favorite cocktails is Two Fold and Tonic, because the tonic works well with the wine characteristics in the Two Fold.

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Q:

What does a day in the life of a distiller look like?

Dave has done every job at the distillery. As the Founder, you have to learn to let go. Early on he focused on the stills and the barrels. Over time, his focus moved on to branding and commercial side of the business. His first employee runs the distillery floor, and he trusts him implicitly. Dave is focusing on driving brand awareness in the competitive American markets. As the founder, he is running Master Classes and Events, but still finds time to meet with other distilleries that are pushing the boundaries. He’s the public persona of Starward Whisky and is learning more about the industry as they grow.

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Q:

:How is the whisky industry in Australia going? Are there a lot of distilleries opening up?

In 2007 there were 6 distilleries, now there are over 200 distilleries. Around 30 – 50 of those are whisky distilleries. He is very proud of the Australian whisky industry and the quality of their products. It’s a challenge to get whisky drinkers to try your brand, and then convert them to recurring customers. 

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Q:

Kentucky has bourbon. Scotland has Scotch. What is the flavor profile or style that in your mind best represents Australian Whisky?

Australian whisky is 80% Single Malt, but Starward also produces a double grain. The hallmark of Australian whisky is the provenance of the barrels, from Port to Sherry to Shiraz. It has a distinct character and an accessible flavor that is unique to Australia with the wine barrel aging. The best Australian whisky is matured in red wine barrels.

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Q:

Finally, what would you like our readers to leave here knowing about Starward?

Starward comes from Melbourne, an urban city of 5 million residents, with a rich food culture. Much the same way chefs think about their food, Starward does the same for their whisky. The approach is a mix of old and new. Starward is a leading ingredient in cocktails, and when paired with food, should complete the meal. The drink needs to work with the meal, and all of the flavors from the drink and the meal need to collaborate and come together perfectly. Dave especially enjoys coming up with cocktails that would work with Thai or Mexican food.

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About Starward:

 

Starward is crafted in Melbourne Australia, frequently called the foodie capital of the country. All of their ingredients are local, all within just a day's drive of the distillery. With the whiskey being aged in red wine barrels and exposed to the natural temperature elements that fluctuate wildly, Starward is able to produce their whiskies in just 3 short years. To learn more about Starward and their offerings visit 

https://starward.com.au 

or on Facebook at 

https://www.facebook.com/starwardwhisky/

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