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Sunday, 20 August 2017

Starward Tenth Anniversary Whisky Review!

I know I've said it before, but I still think Starward is the best value Australian whisky you'll find. Easy drinking, very reasonably priced and still with more than enough flavour and character to satisfy the whisky enthusiast, it's a winner.

I've covered the history behind Starward / New World Distillery in more detail here, but for a quick recap, the distillery opened in 2007 in a hanger at Essendon airport in Melbourne. The goal from the outset was to produce a more affordable Australian whisky that was also more readily available and more accessible than most, and we can safely say that David & his team have reached that goal. To help achieve this they've moved away from tradition where necessary, using modern equipment and innovative techniques, and taking full advantage of the local climate & conditions, plus fresh Australian wine casks, to help the whisky mature more quickly. They're not resting on their laurels either, with a steady flow of experimental bottlings being released under the 'New World Projects' brand, perhaps the most famous of which is the ginger beer cask finish, now on its third batch, which at least from my outside perspective has been very successful.

While the New World Projects releases are developing their own cult following, the regular / core bottlings under the Starward label are very successful in their own right, and for good reason. Both the standard Apera (Australian sherry) cask-matured bottling and the Australian red wine cask-matured 'wine cask' are very consistent products, which is most likely a result of their solera vatting system used for these bottlings, as well as the skill of the distillery's production team of course. At around $90-100 AUD a pop here in Australia, they may not be "cheap" by Scotch whisky standards, but when compared to most other Australian single malts (with a couple of exceptions), they offer excellent value for money, and they do drink beyond their young ages. The distillery recently re-located to a new larger site in Port Melbourne, closer to the Melbourne CBD, and has added a beautiful-looking bar and some larger equipment to keep up with the anticipated demands of the future.

What I'm looking at today is a first for Starward. Released this year as a commemorative bottling to celebrate the distillery's tenth anniversary, and once again priced very reasonably, it's a vatting of 28 casks of different ages, selected from the eight different types that the distillery has used since they began distilling. The only complaint I've heard about the standard Starwards is the relatively low bottling strength, being 43% for the standard version and 41% for the wine cask version. And this is the case for obvious reasons, since it helps to keep the pricing at a reasonable level, yields more bottles per cask, and keeps the whisky accessible & perhaps more enjoyable for the novice. But the distillery has addressed that complaint with this anniversary bottling, which weighs in at a very nice 52% ABV. As I've mentioned, despite being a limited release anniversary bottling, this one was priced very reasonably (which is certainly bucking the current trend!) at $190 AUD... for TWO full-sized bottles! Yes, this commemorative and limited whisky was only officially sold as a twin-pack, with one marked 'One to Drink' and the other marked 'One to Keep'. Which makes this Australian single malt an absolute bargain!

(image borrowed from Starward's IG)
Starward Tenth Anniversary bottling, NAS, 52%. Melbourne, Australia.
Matured in 28 casks of different ages and 8 different types, apparently mostly first-fill Australian wine barrels. Non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. 

Colour: Dark amber. 

Nose: Ooh, this is fantastic! Lightly buttered toast with rich burnt citrus marmalade. Quite a thick, bold, warm & inviting nose with plenty going on. Very, very nice. Golden sultanas, thick & slightly burnt butter toffee, slightly nutty toasted oak, plum & apricot jams, a little vanilla paste. 

Texture: Medium weight, voluptuous! Very flavourful, and no heat. Yummy. 

Taste: Lovely rich stone fruit, hint of dark berries, more slightly burnt buttered toffee, some warm ground spices, cinnamon & black pepper, maybe even a bush pepper? Delicious toasted & caramelised oak, some more citrus, but more bitter & zesty now. Very slight hint of Starward's bananas, but far less sweet and not the banana lollies that I find in the regular expressions, and it's only a slight hint. A little vanilla paste as well. 

Finish: Medium-to-long length, comes and goes in waves. Some dark cocoa, more golden sultanas, the same lightly bitter citrus zest, more lovely toasted oak. Some red grape tannins, stone fruit jams again, and that warm buttery oak 'til the end.  

Score: 4 out of 5. 

Notes: Absolutely delicious! What a dram. And what a nose! So weighty and expressive, but also balanced & complex, there's a real winning nose on this one. Lovely texture as well, and again very complex & balanced on the palate. A seriously excellent whisky from Starward / New World which, like all of their whiskies, belies its age and hides its youth extremely well. This one is definitely more mature in character though, with more dark fruit, citrus and lovely warm oak, and that higher strength gives it a beautiful weight both on the nose and palate, with no spirit-y heat at all. This is definitely my favourite Starward to date. 

Now I'm really regretting not buying a set myself (it was just bad timing for me), so well done all you lucky folk that did! This really showcases what the distillery can do without going too far from their character, which is exactly what an anniversary or commemorative bottling should do if you ask me. Such an expressive and delicious Australian whisky, and as usual from these guys, an absolute bargain for the price. Well done David & team, and happy anniversary Starward!

Cheers!