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Sunday, 8 January 2017

Starward Wine Cask Whisky Review!

Starward single malt is produced by New World Distillery, located in Melbourne, Australia. The distillery was founded in 2007 by all-round gentleman David Vitale, who had initially set out to open a microbrewery, but then spent some time with Bill & Lyn at Lark Distillery in Tasmania, and decided to open a whisky distillery instead! David now serves as the sales & marketing director for New World Distillery, and can often be found manning the Starward table at the various whisky expos and events around the country.

While originally housed in an aircraft hanger at Essendon airport just North of Melbourne's CBD, New World has recently relocated to a new larger premises in Port Melbourne. The distillery made major news last year as the first Australian whisky distillery to attract investment from Diageo, the world's largest spirits company. There were some anti-establishment sentiments expressed at the time, but it's important to note that Diageo does not own the distillery, they are simply a minority stakeholder. And let's not forget that along with their own very successful distilleries and brands Diageo are also part owners of LVMH, the owners of Ardbeg and Glenmorangie, who certainly aren't being held back from innovation and experimentation. These new funds from Diageo and other investors will enable New World to ramp-up their production and to move into overseas markets, and no doubt assisted with the massive costs of the recent relocation.

The distillery sources Australian products (including the stills themselves) and ingredients wherever possible, using Australian barley and Australian casks for the two Starward expressions, the standard release of which is matured in Apera (the official term for Australian sherry) casks, and the newer expression I'm looking at today, simply named 'wine cask', which is matured in ex-Shiraz red wine casks sourced mostly from the famed Barossa Valley region of South Australia. Speaking of which, New World do not shave & re-toast their casks, a practice often referred to as reconditioning or rejuvenating, which means they get the maximum benefits from the casks' previous contents, but conversely they do not get as much benefit from the filtering and flavour-inducing effects of that fresh toasting or charring. So these are definitely what you would call 'fresh' casks.

New World are producing relatively young whisky, usually around 3 years of age, but you wouldn't guess that by the taste or quality of the bottled product. The distillery utilises Melbourne's indecisive weather to give their maturing whisky a hurry-along, even taking full advantage of the conditions by painting their old hangar black to trap as much heat inside as possible, with the option of opening both hangar doors to rapidly cool it back down. The relatively young age and the low bottling strength of these whiskies does also help to keep costs down, which is why at the time of writing both Starward expressions can be had for $80-90 AUD in a full-size 700ml bottle. There's only one other Australian single malt in that price bracket, and it just does not come close when it comes to quality, consistency and drink-ability. So, let's get to it!

Starward Wine Cask, NAS, 41%. Melbourne, Australia. 
Aged for at least 2.5 years in 100- & 200-litre Australian ex-Shiraz red wine casks.

Colour: Amber

Nose: Sweet buttered toffee, ripe bananas (but not as prominent as in the standard Starward expression), spicy & rich toasted oak, musty red grapes, sweetened red berries, hint of toasted coconut and rich barley behind.

Texture: Light weight. Clean, sweet and well balanced. And no spirit-y heat at all. 

Taste: Sweet & rich. More buttery toffee and spicy toasted oak, musty red grapes and drying wood spices.

Finish: Some grape & oak tannins, more drying spices, hint of that rich barley again but quite dry now, and some bitter / high-cocoa raspberry dark chocolate.

Score: 3 out of 5.

Notes: A light and easy-drinking malt, almost a summer's day / breakfast whisky that would be a real crowd pleaser, keeping everyone happy! There are no off-notes, no spirit-y heat and more than enough flavour to keep you interested regardless of your level of experience. Great stuff. Having said that, I do prefer the standard Starward expression to this wine cask version, although I suspect that's down to personal taste more than anything else, there's not much of a gap here. This one has a beautiful nose, really quite rich for its strength, and also surprisingly complex for its age, but the palate and particularly the finish were not as impressive for me. 

Nonetheless, this is in my opinion the best value for money you can find in Australian whisky. It punches way above its weight, easily beating many others that are twice the price (or more), and absolutely decimates those that are a similar price. I think David & the team behind New World / Starward should be commended for their success, and for doing exactly what they set out to do, and I can't wait to see what they come up with in the future. If you're yet to take the plunge on a bottle of Starward, I definitely recommend giving it a go. Enjoy!


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