Welcome to a new addition to the blog called the Top Tipple Review. With these reviews I plan on reviewing all of the amazing once-in-a-lifetime samples or bottles that I’ve managed to get my hands on throughout the years. Many of the whiskies that will be featured will either be limited edition, once-off interesting pours, very far out of the typical bourbon drinker’s budget, very hard to find, no longer be available outside of auctions or personal collections, or a combination of these. I’ll probably never get a chance to try any of these whiskies again, and I cannot think of any better way to enjoy them than to share my experiences of them with my fellow bourbon folk! Sláinte – Paddy
Seeing as it’s Whisky Wednesday today (any excuse, am I right?!), I thought I’d take a look at something a little different with two very interesting single malt Australian whiskies. Both are from a part of the world that, until now, I haven’t tried any whisky from but have heard great things from those who have. Therefore, in order to do these any justice I thought I’d first take a brief look at Australian whisky’s evolving role in the world of whisky before heading into my review.
The last decade has seen the world go through a whisky boom. No longer considered the exclusive drink of choice for old men in tight tweed, or the shot you would take at the end of your night out, whisky as a global spirit category has taken a sharp rise in popularity. With this surge in demand the market responded with distilleries popping up here, there and everywhere on a global scale. An interesting side-effect of this has been a market that isn’t exclusively dominated by the traditional categories of Scotch, Bourbon, Irish, and Japanese whiskies. Instead we’re seeing award winning releases that hail from previously overlooked whisky producing territories such as South Africa, Tasmania, and Taiwan, to name a few. These markets are releasing unique expressions that are created with as much care and dedication to quality as we’ve come to expect from the traditional categories but now that they’re in the global market they have the means to expand and get their releases onto the main stage.
Australia is one such whisky producing territory that was previously (mostly) overlooked. Once a massive player in the global production of whisky, several factors including a harsh tax code introduced in the 1960s resulted in the demise of many of Australia’s distilleries as imported spirits became more affordable than local brands. It wasn’t until the early 90s that there was a return of whisky distilling in Australia, with Tasmania taking the lead. In Tasmania, distilleries like the Franklin Distillery, Lark’s, and the Tasmania Distillery (Sullivan’s Cove) were quietly producing whilst on the mainland the only Australian whisky being produced was for the small-scale, micro-distillery driven ultra-premium whisky scene.
Much of this changed in 2014 when Sullivan’s Cove won the World’s Best Single Malt Whisky, the first win for a non-Scottish whisky. Almost overnight Australia was thrown into the global spotlight and the Australian perception of distilling as a hobby ended. No longer considered as something that’s inferior to Scotch whisky, Tasmanian (and by extension Australian) whisky entered a new Golden age. With rapidly shifting consumer appetites, the end of previous misconceptions, and the now global success of Aussie brands, a massive influx of new distillers entered the market with record numbers soon operating in both Tasmania and mainland Australia. Already existing distillers also made use of this opportunity to showcase their quality products and Australian whisky has since taken the world by storm.
One distillery that was in operation and turning heads long before the renewed global interest in Australian Whisky is the New World Whisky Distillery located in Port Melbourne. Founded by David Vitale in 2007 after an inspiring visit to a micro-distillery in Tasmania, the following five years were spent constructing their distillery and developing the desired mashing, fermentation, distillation and maturation techniques. Production finally began in 2010 with the release of the flagship product Starward Single Malt Whisky and was followed in 2015 with the release of their Wine Cask Single Malt Whisky. What makes Starward such an interesting distillery is that all their whiskies are aged entirely in ex-wine casks (as opposed to finished) and despite a relatively short ageing process, they have continued to win several prestigious awards including Best Craft Distiller and a Double Gold for it’s Wine Cask Malt from the 2017 SFWSC. Today I’ll be looking at both Starward’s Solera Single Malt and Wine Cask Malt which have been available in the UK since 2016.
Starward Solera Single Malt
Australian Single Malt Whisky – 86 proof (43% abv) – NAS more info…
Starward single malt whisky is made from 100% Australian barley that is sourced between Hunter Valley in Northern Sydney and the Adelaide Hills which has been specially malted to their exact specification. It’s also important to note this is brewer’s barley usually used for making beer and not distiller’s barley. This apparently contributes to Starward whisky’s rich amber colour. Once distilled, this whisky is then aged in hand-selected ex- 40-50 year old Austrailian Apera (Australian fortified wine/sherry) casks that have been re-coopered and re-toasted. The term ‘solera’ comes from what David Vitale calls a ‘portfolio’ maturation approach whereby the whisky is matured in different sized ex-Apera barrels and a portion of the barrel contents is systematically aged, decanted and moved from barrel to barrel starting with the youngest barrel and ending with the oldest barrel. Traditionally used in the production of Spanish sherry, this method results in a more consistent product as the barrels are never completely emptied so new stocks are always mingled with older stock as the ageing continues. According to Starward, unlike Scottish or Irish whiskies which take between 8-12 years to mature, the ‘four-seasons-in-a-day’ climate of Melbourne results in what’s termed ‘elemental maturing’. This makes a fully mature whisky in as little as 2-3 years.
Nose: On the nose there is complex notes of honey, fruit cake, marzipan, slight citrus, floral vanilla, sherry, and toasted oak.
Palate: On the palate there is a smooth mouthfeel with malted barley, a citrus zing, toasted oak spice, and faint tropical fruits.
Finish: On the finish there is light citrus, malt barley, and a wave of spice with a dry and sweet tannic oak aftertaste.
Overall: This is a very enjoyable malt with vibrant flavours and subtle complexity from both the malted barely and the wine casks. The influence from the toasted Apera casks is clear throughout and adds great balance to the sweet and floral malt. It’s hard to believe that this whisky would fall into the ‘young whisky’ category and it’s clear why it continues to win awards year in and year out. I’m not a massive malt whisky drinker but I know a good malt when I taste one. Starward have crafted a very flavourful and approachable malt through their non-traditional distilling and ageing techniques and i take my hat off to them for it.
Starward Wine Cask Edition
Australian Single Malt Spirit – 82 proof (41% abv) – NAS more info…
Released in 2015 as an experimental take on their successful Australian Single Malt, Starward’s Wine Cask release features exactly the same single malt whisky you would expect knowing that it’s been exclusively aged in Australian red wine barrels. Not yet old enough to be classified as a whiskey yet this is not to be confused with the now existing Wine Cask Single Malt which is available in select markets. For this spirit, Australian red wine barrels have been individually selected and transported to the distillery overnight as soon as being emptied to take advantage of a uniquely Australian red wine profile. The barrels are steamed, not charred, to retain the penetration of wine into the wood and to make sure those red wine flavours aren’t compromised.
Nose: On the nose there are the same sweet floral and citrus notes as the Solera Malt-however, complimenting these nicely are dark fruits, molasses, malty cereals and white pepper oak spice.
Palate: On the palate there is the same viscosity as the Solera but with notes of treacle, dark chocolate, citrus, baking spices, floral malt, and dry oak.
Finish: On the finish there’s more dark fruits, baking spices, and a dry tannic aftertaste of red wine and oak.
Overall: Despite sharing the same base malt whisky as in the Solera Malt expression, the ageing in wine casks adds a heavy, robust spin to the floral malt. This spirit has a lot more body and complexity on the palate with great balance and red wine flavours throughout. There’s also a bit more spice in this one which makes me wonder if this is due to the oak in the wine casks being a lot younger than those from the Apera casks. This offering would be much more my style with those bold, dark fruit flavours and peppery oak spice notes, which will probably improve even further with longer ageing.
If this is what Australian craft whisky taste like then consider me impressed! Sure I am not the kind of person that would typically gravitate toward single malt whiskies or red wine, but when a whisky tastes this good it deserves to be applauded. What stood out for me is despite being relatively young there is no big giveaway as you sip them and in my opinion, if a craft producer can make something that tastes this great, then the stated age is the least of my concerns.
Of the two whiskies I preferred the Wine Cask Single Malt spirit. Already the complexity and balance that ageing in red wine barrels has brought to it have begun to transform what is a good single malt into a really good single malt. From how much I liked the Wine Cask single malt spirit, I can see why these spirits have recently gained the attentions of many Scotch whisky fans and received numerous top awards. Starward’s approach is a great example of a craft distillery that’s willing to step outside their comfort zone and try something new such as exclusive ex-wine barrel ageing. Starward have released a whisky and a spirit that are very much aimed at both experienced and novice whisky drinkers with both sleek packaging and thoroughly enjoyable whiskies that are no doubt as easy to mix into a cocktail as they are to drink straight. Despite not being a single malt lover I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to see what these guys will come out with next. One particularly exciting development was the recent investment from Diageo’s Distilling Ventures arm which I hope helps Starward to keep doing what they’re doing but at a larger scale and for a global market. In the quick-paced global whiskey boom Starward have definitely earned their seat at the table as a producer of very approachable high-quality whiskies that don’t price-out the every day drinker.
Buy or Try?
I think these would appeal to any level of whiskey drinker and offer whiskey enthusiasts a great chance to try two of Australia’s best single malt spirits. They’re flavourful, approachable, and available for the bargain price of £50 each on Master of Malt – what are you waiting for?
Inside a Starward barrel
For more information about Starward and their great whiskies check out their website here!
The images used in this post are the property of New World Distillery and were used with permission. Cheers!