Australian Whisky Is Having a Moment, and This Brand Is Its Leading Light

How great culture, odd climate and “big red” wines shape Melbourne's Starward Whisky

Starward Whisky
Starward does a full maturation of its whisky in wine barrels from local Aussie vineyards

“We’re quite spoiled for whisky. There’s no real need for another whisky on the back bar.”

That’s a pretty bold admission from David Vitale, the founder of Starward Whisky, a single malt hailing from Melbourne that launched in the U.S. earlier this summer. 

But Vitale, who entered the whisky arena in 2007 and launched Starward in 2016, thought he had a winning idea: make the whisky a showcase for everything great about Australia, and particularly Vitale’s hometown. “I wanted to create a whisky from Down Under that can actually take it to the best in the world,” Vitale told us during the brand’s U.S. launch party in New York this past June. “But I wanted it to be more than that. I wanted it to be about the culture that makes it.”

If you need to know one thing about Melbourne, it’s rightfully dubbed the most livable (or second most livable) city in the world. Besides its diverse culture, the area is also home to a unique and dynamic climate (aka “four seasons in a day”) and a well-loved wine industry. 

All of those elements come into play with Starward. The malted barley in this Australian Single Malt is sourced just a day’s ride away from the Melbourne distillery, and the spirit is matured in wine barrels borrowed from local vineyards known for their vibrant “big reds” (ex-Shiraz, Cabernet, Pinot). 

The result, at least in Starward’s debut American release, Nova, is brighter and fruitier on the nose and palate than your typical brown spirit, but still unmistakably whisky. You still get those notes of vanilla and baking spices, and it’s just as approachable on its own as it is in cocktails. The difference here is really one of image: as Vitale dryly notes, Melbourne is “the farthest place away from the fireplace, the tweed jacket and the pipe in mouth” that you might get from, say, a Scotch.

While they just launched here in the States, the buzz about the brand actually started a few years back. Starward picked up a “World’s Best Craft Distilled Whisky” award at the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, the same year the brand entered the market.

Bad Frankie
Just a few of the dozens of Aussie whiskies now available at Bad Frankie (Photo: Kirk Miller)

I first discovered it a few years before it hit our shores, at a Melbourne bar called Bad Frankie that serves only local spirits (and jaffles). “Since we opened in 2014, Australian spirits were coming from about 20 distilleries. It’s over 200 today, and about 70 of those are whiskies,” explains Sebastian Costello, Bad Frankie’s bar director. “What I like about Starward is they make a truly Melbourne whisky. It’s big, rich and delicious. And the aging process really does give it a uniquely Australian flavor.”

It echoes a sentiment Vitale expressed at his whisky’s launch party, one that applies not only to Starward but hopefully all spirits. As he opined: “All great whiskies should stand for the place they’re made.”

You can order a bottle of Starward Nova here.


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