Starward founder, David Vitale is ushering in the fourth wave of Australian whisky.
The first began when fledgling local distillers became established in the 1860s. It lasted until Geelong’s Corio whisky packed up shop in the 1980s. Despite being infamously undrinkable – and colloquially known as ‘COR 10’ like a petrol brand of the time – they still managed to sell $600,000 worth a year.
Local whisky geeks already know the story of the second wave arriving once iconic distilling identity Bill Lark literally changed the rules on production in terms of legal volumes. The resulting era sought to create single malt whiskies in the shadow of Scotch traditions.
However, David believes, “there are plenty of whiskies you can drink by a fireside with a tweed jacket and a pipe. We’re not one of them. We don’t want to be one of them. Go drink a Scotch whisky – they’re bloody amazing.”
And so the third wave became about creating a modern whisky of our very own. For David, the definitive Australian drop should focus on the unique provenance of its ingredients and also be matured in Australian wine barrels (Starward‘s “secret sauce”) for three years. Three ‘Melbourne years’ specifically.
“We’ve got a huge desert in the centre of the country. But we’ve also got a huge desert to the south; Antarctica,” he says.
“All of our wind comes from the west – the roaring forties – either north west, hot and dry, or south west, bloody cold. That means we get our famous ‘four seasons in one day’ with huge dynamic temperature ranges. This means we can come to market in just three Melbourne years. It defies logic. It shouldn’t work. It shouldn’t work, but it does…our barrels work harder than any elsewhere in the world.”
Now to that foretold fourth wave.
It may have arrived in the form of the third member of the Starward family: ‘Two Fold’ whisky. David’s intention is for Two Fold to help define Australian whisky’s place in the world. And to eventually establish local whisky on the global stage, rivaling Scotch, Irish, American and Japanese styles. Closer to home, it’s a whisky meant to be shamelessly mixed into cocktails and paired with food; to be permitted at the dinner table as seamlessly as wine. “To convert gin drinkers to whisky has always been the audacious goal,” says David.
So why do they think it has the potential to conquer the world? As opposed to a single malt, Two Fold features a duo of grains. Australia is renowned for wheat so it is the obvious choice to join the traditional malted barley. “The wheat,” David explains, “acts like a magnifying glass for the malt and wine flavours.” Two Fold is more approachable in alcohol (40% ABV), affordable in price ($65) and lighter in style. It’s still aged in Starward’s signature wine barrels. “Because we’re so close to those wineries, we can get barrels to the distillery very quickly still saturated with wine. Wine goes out. Whisky goes in. Very minimal intervention…it really does deliver from a flavour point of view.”
As with the distillery’s original ‘Solera’ (Apera barrel) and ‘Nova’ (wine cask) whiskies, the ingredients for Two Fold are all sourced within a single day’s drive away from the distillery. “They [Scotch producers] are sourcing barrels from Portugal, Spain, Kentucky. Sometimes barley from Poland and continental Europe. So in a lot of ways Australian whisky is more Australian than Scotch is Scottish,” thinks David.
“Just don’t say that in Glasgow!”
Starward Distillery, 50 Bertie Street, Port Melbourne