David Vitale, founder of Melbourne’s Starward Distillery talks about Starward Australian whisky and what makes his local area shine in whisky production.
Tell us a bit about how Starward Australian Whisky stands out from the rest of the whisky on the market today.
All good whiskies talk to the place they’re made, in terms of ingredients, but the best talk to the culture of the place.
Of course, we have an abundance of incredible ingredients in Australia, including some of the world’s best wineries at our doorstep. We’re lucky to have these within a day’s drive from our distillery, so we can get these barrels fresh, still saturated with wine to bring forward those fruity and juicy characteristics. As you would expect with red wine barrels—our whisky pairs amazingly well with food—and creates a distinctive flavor profile significant to Starward.
Culturally, our inspiration is anchored in Melbourne’s food and drinks scene that maintains uncompromisingly high quality and attention to detail but no “airs and graces” in terms of the experience. It’s our aim to do the same with our whisky, offer uncompromising quality but great value for money and make it as much of an ingredient in a great cocktail as in a neat whisky serve.
What inspired you to create the brand?
I learned how to make whisky in Tasmania—the island state south of the mainland in Australia—kind of by accident. I was originally thinking of starting a microbrewery and someone organized a meeting with me at a cafe which also doubled up as a distillery and tasting room. It gave me that ah-ha moment, and I never looked back.
Once I started to discover more about the whisky making process, I fell in love with the idea that we could make delicious whisky that was as good as any in the world. The challenge was that most of the whisky being produced was very, very scarce, and costly to produce. I had an entrepreneurial moment of madness and decided to take on the challenge to put Australian whisky on the map with an approachable but flavorful whisky that could sit on the dinner table rather than the “special occasion” cabinet at home. That was how the idea of Starward was born.
What do you think is most important for bartenders to know about your whisky?
Starward is a modern Australian whisky that is also the first distillery in the world to entirely mature its whisky in Australian red wine barrels, delivering rich and complex flavors that make it a whisky to be enjoyed with food. The barrels are sourced at wineries located within a days’ drive of the distillery and delivered to the distillery freshly emptied, meaning they retain much of their original character that is apparent in the flavor and texture of the spirit. The line of whiskies is comprised of single malts and double grain whiskies that are perfect sipping neat or mixed in a variety of cocktails.
In a sentence or two, how should a bartender describe Starward to a guest that inquires?
Starward is an Australian whisky matured in red wine barrels, resulting in whiskies that are rich with bold, fruit flavors perfect for a variety of cocktails from highballs to modern variations of classic recipes.
Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then when starting your own spirits brand?
It’s going to be awesome, scary and will test you in ways you didn’t know possible. But you will surprise yourself with the patience and resilience you will muster.
Talk to us about being the Most Awarded Distillery of the Year.
To become the first Australian whisky to be named the Most Awarded Distillery of the Year at the world’s most competitive spirits competition is a dream come true. Fifteen years ago, we had an idea to bring an approachable and delicious Melbourne whisky to life and to receive this recognition confirms what we’ve always known: that Australia is home to some of the finest whisky and spirits in the world. This achievement would not be possible without the passion, commitment, and shared dream of our team. With this win, we are excited to take Starward to new horizons both here and abroad.
Tell us more about the expressions/name/packaging.
Well, we wanted to be a modern whisky, and traditionally whiskies were named after people, places, or animals. So the easy decision was “not” people, place or animal. I’ve always been captivated by the night sky and the possibilities that lie beyond your horizon. So Starward was the brand and the mission of our company. To reach for the stars and explore the possibilities in whisky.
Tell us about the whisky category—where do you see it headed?
I think the new world whisky category—whiskies from the unexpected corners of the world—is going to become the next section of the whisky aisle to explode with well crafted, interesting and delicious whiskies, and I’m so excited to be a part of that next wave.
How has the category changed since you started? Anything you hope evolves in the category?
Well, whisky has become way more inclusive, and I think that’s really exciting. I arrived as a craft beer drinker thinking if I can fall in love with whisky as a beer drinker, anyone can. And I think that’s proven to be true. In terms of new world whiskies, it’s exciting to see places you would never expect to see make whisky arrive with a unique and exciting expression of it.
What’s next for Starward?
Be on the lookout for some of our most unique and adored limited releases, coming soon to the United States. There are some delicious announcements just around the corner.