Just In 👉 Compass Box Introduces Us To Some Crimson Casks

Whisky Reviews

A Sky Full Of Starward's: Two-Fold, Nova, Solera, 100 Proof, Vitalis & Single Malt Finished In Ex-Lagavulin Barrels

 

Over the past week I got to attend Starward's launch of their new brand identity, and as part of that, I got to try a flight of their flagship expressions as well as some of the more limited one-off's.

I got to meet David Vitale himself, who was an absolutely lovely guy, who shared about each expression and his desire to send a love letter to world from Australia. One thing I'll say about Starward is how incredibly thoughtful they are, weaving in little connections to their home, Melbourne, or Australia in broad, as well as memories of benchmarks that they pay homage to.

| Read More: To Infinity And Beyond: Inside Starward's Masterclass By Founder David Vitale

 

David Vitale himself! 

 

Also in my opinion - and I'm aware it's not a sentiment shared by the whisky community - but I love red wine cask aged whiskies. I know they're not often done well, so we're going to put Starward to the test here. But when done well, they're superb. On top of that, for a number of Starward's whiskies, we're going to see them fully matured in red wine barrels, so that's going to be something!

Without further ado, let's go!

Starward Two-Fold Double Grain Wheat & Single Malt Whisky, 40% ABV - Review

 

First up, we have the Two-Fold. This pays homage to two of Australia's biggest agri exports - wheat and barley. After distilling a wheat whisky and a malt whisky, the two distillates were then vatted in a 60 / 40 proportion which is subsequently wet filled (wine casks come in at night, whisky filled by morning) in Australian wine casks from a local P-fold's winery, where it stays to age for the full duration of the ageing (which is about 3-4 years).

Keen eyes would immediately be struck by the fact that it has wheat whisky in it - wheated whiskies are not common outside the US by any means, whilst ironically, wheated whiskies are a big hit in the US (think Pappy's, Maker's Mark, Weller). Seems like real untapped potential here!

And what's more, this wasn't just done for the sake of it, rather it has a real sincerity about it - it's absolutely inspired by the local environment with 100% Australian ingredients! 

 

Tasting Notes

Color: Gold

Aroma: Honey layered atop a mellow but dense pot of peaches, apricot - lots of raw honey. This deepens into more on raspberry jam with a light but rather distinct hit of funky overripe banana.

Taste: More mellow honey, coupled with raspberry jam, with a light hit of cracked black pepper. More of those funky overripe banana too. There’s also cherry candy and caramel, all of which rests atop a quite refreshing and gleaming lifted texture. With some time it evolves to green olives - slightly savoury, almost reminiscent of teriyaki sauce or a honey soy sauce.

Finish: Finishes cleanly, with lingering notes of banana candy, cherry candy and honey. A little bit of grape skin tannins come through with a side of balsamic.

 

My Thoughts

Such a unique profile, it’s a three way split between wheat, malt and barrel influence - which altogether makes it such a fascinating whisky. Sure, it’s not one of those poke you in the eye whiskies, so you’ll have to do abit of work here, but if you just stop and give it some attention, it’s all there.

What I really appreciated was not just how unique it is (there aren’t all that many wheated whiskies outside of the US) but just how well it all came together - this ain’t no Frankenstein! And together with the lighter, cleaner, somewhat shimmery palate, the heavy flavours almost feel lifted and higher tone, which actually serves to make it absolutely perfect for food pairing.

All that complexity means you can’t get bored of the stuff and just as well, it’ll go well with quite a diverse palate.

It’s a real whisky lover’s whisky.

Oh and absolutely aromatic finish!

Starward Nova Single Malt Whisky, 41% ABV - Review

 

Now, the Nova is basically the malt whisky component in the Two-Fold, and is meant to be Starward's reference point for anyone thinking about Scotch single malt whisky.

But of course, here it's got that unique Aussie touch - them red wine barrels (we're talking Shiraz, Cabernets, big reds, really)

  

Tasting Notes

Color: Amber

Aroma: Bolder notes of honey, peaches and apricot - thick and syrupy, as well as estery sweet. There’s a deep sweet-savouriness of honey soy glaze too. With some time it lets up to a more perfumed bouquet of rose water and strawberry jam.

Taste: Starts off with honeyed decked stewed fruits of apricots, and then more on mulled wine with the spices. There’s also cooked raspberries and blackberries in there, before it takes a slightly more savoury, vegetal touch of marmite. There’s also this light funkiness of overripe bananas. Here it’s a little thicker on the palate too.

Finish: Sweet-savoury notes abound - there’s that honeyed apricots, balanced against balsamic. Rather umami actually, with dried mushrooms and miso paste.

  

My Thoughts

Compared to the Two Fold, this one’s clearly stronger, and decked with deeper flavours, which it trades off for some of that complexity. Here it’s alittle more narrow, but still very interesting - with that sweet savoury thread that runs throughout.

Overall, well balanced and well contrasted, again with that aromatic finish that I’m starting to think is the Starward signature along with the fruit jams. Oh and quite a curious umami touch here too!

Starward Solera Single Malt, 43% ABV - Review

  

And then we've got the Solera. The Solera takes reference from the traditional Sherry ageing and blending practice, where barrels of Sherry are stacked in layers atop layers, with the layer on the floor level (the Solera) being the oldest aged Sherry, and the layer closest to the ceiling being the youngest.

Whenever a portion of Sherry is drawn from the floor level barrels (the oldest) for bottling, Sherry from the layer above (a younger Sherry) is used to replace what's drawn from the layer below. This is then applied continuously layer upon layer all the way to the top most layer. In that sense it appears like a waterfall.

The goal here is to help the Sherry marry more cohesively to produce a more silky texture and well rounded flavour.

In the Solera, David uses the same vat of Starward single malt that he constantly draws from and replaces, keeping some component of it the same from the first bottle till each subsequent bottle today. This means that in some ways, everything from what went into the first bottle of Starward Solera, continues to stay in the vat in theory, and so each batch builds on top of that.

  

Tasting Notes

Color: Amber

Aroma: Darker toned and deeper with spiced honey, mulled wine, orange peels, lots of raisins, before letting up to more on creme brulee, a dusting of cinnamon, clove and anise. With time it opens up to a brighter and more lifted aroma.

Taste: Keeping with the darker honeyed and mulled wine notes, coupled with the same spices of anise, clove, cinnamon. It gets a little more tannic with red grape must and grape tannins - rather juicy! On cue, it lifts with some time to give creme brulee, and then more on those warm christmassy notes of raisins, leather and a side of walnut shells.

Finish: More spices, vanilla and caramel custard pudding. Backed up with more on cooked figs, dates and sticky date pudding. Lingering notes of mulled wine and raisins.

  

My Thoughts

This was a very interesting take on what is effectively a Sherry aged whisky - call it Apera! - rather than the typical dense Sherry bombs, here you have a whisky that has all those darker, deeper, warm flavours but layered atop a brighter and more lifted texture, that’s less dense. 

This all gives it a very unique contrast, but more importantly makes it noticeably approachable and easy to drink. This does a great job of packing all these rich flavours without coming across as cloying.

This is the Sherry whisky for those who aren’t fans of Sherry bombs (that’s me)!

Starward 100 Proof Single Malt Whisky, 50% ABV - Review

 

If you're an American whiskey fan, you already know what this is in reference to - the BiB! BiB stands for Bottled in Bond, which is a unique American practice where the government federally regulates the maturation of whiskies which must comply with key standards including being bottled at 100 proof, aged at least 4 years, and produced at a single distillery within a single distillation season.

This pays homage to American whiskey traditions because here, alongside the red wine barrels, we're going to see the use of some American Oak barrels here as well.

  

Tasting Notes

Color: Deep Amber / Copper

Aroma: Noticeably more punchy, with a deep honeyed and herbal sweetness of manuka honey and butterscotch - rich and rounded. This leads into more on lacquered oak and maltose candy, with a sort of smouldering quality.

Taste: A deep, thicker texture of maltose candy that’s packed  with raisins, leather, cooked plums and figs, with a side of walnuts. Some light bits of chocolate syrup too.

Finish: More nuttiness, backed by leather, earthy dried mushrooms, raisins, cooked plums, figs, all of which layered on some deep manuka honey sweetness. 

 

My Thoughts

This was certainly the biggest and boldest. It has lots of richness, with a hefty body that carries through those big flavours. It has a sort of muscular, smouldering quality that’s very rounded and cohesive too. 

It’s like a giant block of honeycomb and sherry notes - big and bold, but mellow.

This one’s great for some late night or cold day sipping. Or somehow feels like a celebration meal of sorts.

Starward Vitalis 15th Birthday Release, 52% ABV - Review

 

This Vitalis expression celebrates the 15th anniversary of the distillery and thus - as you must have begun to spot a trend by now - pays homage to key aspects of the distillery's history and identity. This comes in the form of comprising of six whisky parcels that tell the story of Starward - they include red wine barrels, tawny, bourbon, apera and rum barrels, which were aged 4-10 years and then put together.

Its name is of course an ode to David himself and his efforts that have culminated in Australia's most recognisable whisky brand - Starward.

 

Tasting Notes

Color: Amber

Aroma: It’s a little bit of a whole bunch of things, with the wine notes in particular standing out - red berries, raspberries, berry compote and jam, coupled with a honeyed sweetness. Beneath the brighter layer of fruits, there’s more mellow and darker notes of dark chocolate bits, toffee and alittle bit of candied pineapple and overripe banana. Alittle bit of wood spice too and pipe tobacco.

Taste: Deep flavours still - dark chocolate coated dried red berries - cranberries, raspberries, it’s quite bold and punchy. There’s a little bit of a caramel mocha quality too, or a Mexican hot chocolate that has chillies added to it. With time it leans into a more classic Sherry sensibility with a light nuttiness, more on leather, tobacco leaves, as well as some savouriness.

Finish: The tartness of  the red berries is more pronounced here, and then also more on that umami earthiness of dried mushrooms.

 

My Thoughts

This had a lot of flavours and body, definitely leaning towards the heavier side, and in that sense there’s all these red berries and dark chocolate, which gives a nice contrast of bright juiciness and then denser, heavier sweetness.

It almost feels like the whisky equivalent of hot chocolate.

Lovely, with a lot of weight that makes it feel like it was cut for an occasion (which it actually is), and in the range of Starward’s, stretches the spectrum of flavours further from the more refreshing, lighter core range Two Fold and Nova. 

This is quite the opposite! Big, bold, heavier flavours lay here.

Starward Single Malt Australian Whisky Finished in ex-Lagavulin Barrels, 48% ABV - Review

 

Finally we have what's gotten whisky folks very excited, ex-Lagavulin finished Starward single malt! Now, we already know Islay has its fans, so traversing to such a territory was bound to drum up excitement. I don't quite think we've gotten anything similar from Australia yet.

Save to say the obvious here, but this was a collaboration between Starward and Islay's Lagavulin (where's Nick Offerman!), where Starward got their hands on some of Lagavulin's casks to finish (we're talking 18 months here) its otherwise Aussie single malt red wine barrel matured whisky.

But something worth pointing out is that the idea of using ex-Islay cask is particularly fascinating because traditionally most distillers would have to import peat in order to weave the smokiness into their whiskies. You see this with the Japanese distilleries. However, a couple of years ago, someone ingeniously thought to go at it from a different angle - what if we'd finish the whiskies in an ex-smoky whisky barrel rather than peating the barley?

That's created some interesting results! You can bet the effect isn't quite the same. Although I have to wonder if Australia has local peat... Hmm.

  

Tasting Notes

Color: Deep Gold

Aroma: Gentle but big smokiness, very aromatic with a light salinity. Seawater, kombu, smoked butter, with an undertone of honey. Surprisingly no bitterness.

Taste: Strong notes of black tea, a fair bit of salinity too, and then decidedly more medicinal - the classic bandaid wraps, iodine, it turns more vegetal of seaweed. This is backed up by a more herbal base of manuka honey.

Finish: The salinity really carries through, with more apparent medicinal bitterness of iodine and cough syrup, and also more vegetal notes here.

  

My Thoughts

The Lagavulin cask influence is definitely very strong here, but it does thankfully marry well with the Starward body that’s more honeyed and malty that gives the smoky char grilled notes a deep richness to it.

I’d say this was equal parts Lagavulin and Starward but rather than its signature Apera style (the sweet red berries) here you have a more conspicuous smokiness that is much more striking.

This was a big hit with the bunch I tried it with, all of whom were really taken by the smokiness that they found very aromatic - a crowdpleaser to say the least!

Overall

I think Starward has done a great job to say the least with its heavy use of Red Wine Barrels. I think it speaks to having the ability to acquire high quality red wine barrels, and also the body that Starward's whisky has that can take all those sweetness and hold the tannins at bay.

The output of that is deliciously sweet, big and juicy red berries all across the Starward range - which is a big hit for folks like me who enjoy sweeter, fruitier whiskies.

Now with some snazzy intergalactic packaging and great value and availability, I think Starward's down to be a hit.

Finally, having tasted quite the range, I should address the elephant in the room - which do I like best. For me it's a pretty clear winner - the Two-Fold. I found it to have so much complexity and yet was so unique in its profile. I'd call it a whisky lover's whisky because it's just so entertaining, tasty and multi-dimensional. Also very refreshing, and as mentioned, you don't find many wheated whiskies outside of the US (where they are a massive hit!). I kind of wonder if Starward would do a 100% wheated expression - I'd be down for that.

Aside from that, I'd say if you like Scotch, definitely go for the Solera, which really packs so much weight and again offers quite a unique take on your usual Sherry Scotch. The Nova for anyone who just wants a sense of what Aussie whisky can offer - definitely uniquely Australian, so think all the juicy red fruits, with a bit of umami flavours.

The 100 Proof works well in an Old-Fashioned cocktail, and I think is a good pick for those looking for something alittle more special. And then the Vitalis is of course for those Starward fans - it's a piece of history! Finally the ex-Lagavulin finished Starward obviously is for the Islay folks, and surprisingly quite a hit with ladies.

If you're looking to find Starward's whiskies in Singapore, you can find them over at Malt Wine Asia (you can even get them in miniatures!) who is their official distributor here. If you're elsewhere, definitely keep a look out for them!

 

Kanpai!

 

@111hotpot