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Starward is the brainchild of David Vitale, a melbourne native who had an epiphany upon seeing Tasmania’s Lark Distillery for the first time. Growing up in a food obsessed Italian family, Vitale had developed a keen interest in craft beer and home brewing but an introduction to Bill Lark and subsequent distillery tour showed him that all the things he loved about beer, story and provenance, were also present in whisky.
Inspired, he took his newfound passion home to Melbourne, a city surrounded by Australia’s finest wine regions and capital of the country’s booming microbrewing movement. Vitale created his new world whisky distillery in an old airport hangar at Essendon Fields and employed the services of local brewers to help turn his dream to reality.
Using locally sourced brewer’s malt and yeast, combined with wine barrels from local wineries that produced Shiraz, Cabernets, Pinots and Rosé, Vitale and his team set about developing a modern Australian whisky that would work just as well at the dinner table as it would around the fireplace.
Following investment from Diageo, Starward has been able to reach markets hitherto unavailable to them with their New World Whisky first appearing in the UK three or four years ago. Their distillery runs frequent tours and masterclasses and sports one of the longest whisky bars in Australia, made from a 75 year old 30,000 litre brandy vat.
*Full disclosure: I was sent these samples so that I could take part in an online tasting. As always I will strive to give an honest and impartial opinion on the inherent quality of the spirit and the value for money it represents.
Two-fold is a “double grain” whisky made from malted barley and Australian wheat, aged in steamed wine barrels and bottled at 40%. It retails in the UK for £39.95.
Smell: Grain to the fore… breakfast cereal and wheat flour. Vanilla and caramel. Chewy toffee. Woody in a sawdust / pencil shavings sort of way. Some red berries, possibly from the wine barrels? Perhaps slightest hint of struck matches.
Taste: Big arrival with good texture. More like maple syrup than maple syrup. Perhaps some salted caramel too. Weetabix with honey. That berry / forest fruit note again. Gentle woody spice. Reminds me a little of a red wine finished wheated bourbon I picked up from Kings County Distillery in New York. At the finish it seems to disappear abruptly only to resurface with some mouthwatering oak.
Thoughts: There’s a lot of flavour here. More akin to the whiskey of America than Scotch I would say, but a lovely drop all the same.
I’m assuming the spirit that went into this expression was relatively young but the wood has given a lot in a short space of time. Some may feel too much in fact but it’s impressive how the grain, particularly on the nose, still manages to come through. Those who like bold, cask dominated drams should thoroughly enjoy this and at £40 it is a rather attractive prospect.
Nova is matured in casks that previously held Australian red wine. The barrels are lightly charred or steamed so that they might retain more of the flavour of the wine. Aged for three years, the whisky is bottled at 41% and retails in the UK for £50.
Smell: Very much cut from the same cloth as the previous offering but possibly even more cask here. More of the char coming through as well, giving it an almost smoky quality. Burnt toast. Salted caramel. Vanilla. Honey. Wine influence is more like plum than the lighter forest fruits of the Two-Fold, perhaps some raspberry though. Nose seems stronger than its 41%.
Taste: Once again it arrives in a tidal wave of flavour, reminiscent of bourbon or even rum. Cask character has more depth. That salted caramel note is here again – and in great quantity. Vanilla. Honey. Subtle cinnamon-like spice. Again seems to fade quite abruptly at the finish from a rich, intense experience to the gentle presence of wine-soaked oak.
Thoughts: Bigger and weightier than two-fold perhaps but the former is arguably more balanced – and is certainly more affordable. Nova is worth the extra £10 if you enjoy drams that have the cask influence dialled up to 11, but if you’re looking for something that has a little poise, Two-Fold may actually be the better purchase.
Another lovely drop that would be better to judge against bourbon than scotch. The wine influence certainly adds additional layers of flavour and there isn’t a man or woman alive who could accuse the whisky of being bland. Maybe not for everyone, but there are plenty who will fall in love with the whisky of Starward.
If any of the drams in this review have caught your eye you can buy them from Master of Malt. For Two-Fold click here and for Nova click here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission should you choose to buy anything from a link on my page. Several other excellent retailers are also available.
For more information on Starward, visit their website here.