Review: Starward’s Ginger Beer Cask Is the Best Thing to Happen to Whisky This Summer
It’s a sweet, spicy and tropical single malt built for warmer weather — but good luck grabbing a bottle
What we’re drinking: Starward Ginger Beer Cask #7
Where it’s from: Starward is a single malt producer in Melbourne, Australia, which utilizes local ingredients and matures its whisky in barrels from Australian wine producers. Last year it was the most-awarded distillery at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Why we’re drinking this: Because we’re 1) huge fans of Starward and 2) recent converts to ginger beer, an ideal summer beverage. And before the #7 release, the Ginger Beer Cask was pretty much impossible to get in the U.S. (and, as you’ll see below, still not that easy to obtain).
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To craft Ginger Beer Cask, the Starward distillery team brews their own ginger beer in French and American oak barrels at their Port Melbourne distillery. Once the barrel staves soak up the flavors, they are emptied and then refilled with a marriage of Starward’s Nova and Solera single malt whiskies (which are matured in Australian red wine and Apera barrels, respectively). The finishing in ginger beer casks is 12 months, which is twice as long as Cask #6.
“Since our first Ginger Beer Cask bottling in 2014, our ginger beer recipe has evolved,” says David Vitale, Starward’s founder. “It’s a closely guarded secret, but we can confirm that this year it is loaded with ginger and citrus peel.”
Vitale didn’t realize the ginger beer casks — part of the Starward Innovative Projects Program — would be an instant success. “At first, it was really about using the barrel to make a great ginger beer,” he says. “Then we added our whisky back into the barrel to see what would happen.” The results? Immediate sellouts of the bottles back home, and Cask #6 earned a coveted Double Gold medal at the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. (The only other whisky/whiskey brand we can think of that’s utilizing ginger beer casks is Teeling.)
Can Cask #7, the first release that’s making it to our shores, continue to impress? Vitale says this release is a little more “balanced and refined” than previous versions. Let’s have a sip.
How it tastes: Coming in at 48% ABV, this is zesty and full of orange peel, pineapple and ginger, both on the nose and the palate; the malt, cocoa and red fruit notes from the whisky start to shine on the second sip. Honestly, if you like a whisky-based cocktail that has candied ginger as a garnish, you can sip this neat and get a similar experience. But I think this is more of an ideal mixer, even for something as simple as a highball (though it’d also shine in something tropical or Tiki-inspired as well).
Fun fact: Having just spent two weeks in Australia, I can tell you, boozy ginger beer is huge over there. And for good reason: It’s far more delicious and refreshing than the vast majority of canned cocktails (and more session-able, too, at 4% ABV). Vitale is a fan. “I see alcoholic ginger beer is a good step up from hard seltzers for those looking for flavor-forward but lighter-proof drinks,” he says.
Where to buy: You’re really gonna have to want this one — the Ginger Beer Cask #7 is only available by ballot, which is open until May 16 (winners will be announced the next day). Then you’ll have the opportunity to buy a 700ml bottle for $100.
“Every year we try and make enough to meet demand, and every year we seem to underestimate the demand for the whisky,” admits Vitale, who thinks the ballot system is the only fair way for people to have a chance to try this limited release. “We’re a brand built on inclusivity and accessibility. In the past, statistically, you had more chance of getting into Harvard than you did getting one of these bottles, so we just wanted to keep it fair and fairly priced.”
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