But you know what is Australian? Starward Whisky. And Starward Whisky is, in my opinion, the boozy embodiment of what makes Australia — which is where I’m from, in case my accent isn’t coming through — great.

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Quick refresher: What is whisky?

To explain why, we need to lay the groundwork of what exactly whisky is. Whisky (also spelled “whiskey” depending on the country) is a distilled spirit that’s made from fermented grains and aged in wooden barrels. The common grains used are wheat, rye, corn and barley, and the different combination of these grains and their percentages is known as the mash bill. Once the mash is fermented and distilled, the liquor is aged in charred wooden barrels. The contact with the charred wood of the barrel causes the spirit to darken and add flavors in a process called additive maturation.

Different types of whisky

There are a lot of strict rules and regulations that go into the distillation of whiskey and whiskeys around the world. For example, American Bourbon whiskey must be made in the United States from a mash bill that is at least 51% corn, and it must be aged in new, unused charred oak barrels. Irish whiskey, however, (also spelled with an “e”) must be made in Ireland (shocking), and is often triple-distilled. Scotch whisky (no “e,” for reasons) must be made in Scotland with a mash bill of primarily barley. And there are hard legalities attached to each of these.

What is Australian whisky?

Starward’s mantra is “to create a distinctly Australian whisky that could define the category.” Read: as a pioneer of Australian craft whisky, Starward gets to make up its own damn rules. Haha, hell yeah, that’s awesome, and an incredibly Australian attitude.

The obvious joke to make here is that Australia was founded by convicts, so historically and culturally speaking we don’t care for you and your stuffy rules. But in truth, the whisky industry Down Under is a young one, and Starward founder David Vitale says there is a great freedom in that: “Our (Australia’s) definition of whisky is so broad you can shoot a cannon through it.” 

As a result, Aussie distillers aren’t bound by specific legalities and traditions like other countries, giving them room to experiment, and — in true Australian fashion — play.

Why Starward Whisky is special

I mentioned Fosters earlier (seriously though, nobody drinks it), but I assume most people are aware that Australia is known for its spectacular vineyards and wineries. The dry, hot climate makes for bold concentrated flavors, making Australia one of the world’s largest exporters of wine.

But what does wine have to do with whisky? Well, Starward Whisky has partnered with the historic and iconic Yalumba Winery, located in the heart of one of Australia’s most prestigious wine-producing regions, the Barossa Valley. Starward sources its barrels from local wineries like this one, barrels that previously held Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir.

“So what?” you say. “I’m getting to that!” I respond. Sure, implementing wine casks in the process of whisky maturation is not a new concept: there are other distilleries that “finish” their product in a wine-soaked barrel for a concise amount of time. Starward however (cheeky buggers that they are) store their whisky in used wine barrels for the entire length of the maturation process. Most notably, Starward skips charring the barrels: their distillate is poured into wine casks that are often still wet from whatever wine was in there previously. When it comes to getting the most of that gorgeous, wine-soaked flavor, Starward believes in going big or going home.

“Red wine is such a big part of our identity, as a country.” says Vitale. He states that they quickly realized that the wine was doing to the whisky what charring was doing for Scotch. “Wine was doing the heavy lifting for us.” 

Location location location

Starward Whiskey is made in Melbourne, the foodie capital of Australia. Everything is locally sourced, from the barrels, to the malted wheat and barley, to the yeast chosen to ferment the mash. 

Besides being a culinary capital, Melbourne is known for its wildly changeable weather conditions, touted as having four seasons in one day. “These weather swings create a lot of action in the barrel, so three to four years of aging is our sweet spot.

Food and Starward are synonymous: Vitale states the brand has aimed to craft “the most food-friendly whisky in the world” and they’ve blown that goal out of the (probably shark-infested) water: Starward Australian Whisky is the Official Whiskey Partner of the leading culinary authority, the Michelin Guide.

Sweet, sweet success

As if partnering with Michelin weren’t enough, this year Starward absolutely cleaned up at the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition (one of the longest-running and most influential liquor competitions in the world), winning a striking three Gold and 12 Double Gold medals.

With such prestigious and numerous accolades, you might be inclined to assume that Starward Whisky is for pompous whisky snobs. Quite the opposite: Vitale insists that Starward is making whisky for a curious, food-obsessed generation. They’re all about ditching the airs and graces and focusing on flavor instead: “The tweed-smoking Scotsman have got their drink — we want to be approachable.” 

Sure, Starward is delicious neat, and can certainly be supped next to a fireplace in a library full of leather-bound books… but it also fits in well at a raucous family gathering, in a cocktail by the pool.

The Starward team is not restrained by rules, or their method: “We don’t feel boxed in because there’s a huge amount of diversity from wineries” says Vitale. Which makes sense: you can be as varied as the wineries you partner with. A wine barrel made of French oak will import a different flavor to one made of American oak. Then of course there is the diversity of the wine itself: whisky aged for three years in a barrel that previously held a cheeky Shiraz will have a completely different profile to a whisky aged inside a robust Pinot Noir. Starward has a whisky for every drinker.

The result is a delicious, refined range of spirits with personality that perfectly reflects the Aussie ethos: approachable, gets along with all types, has an impressive pedigree without being stuck-up about it, and fits in well at any party.

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