Starward Octave Barrels
Starward Octave Barrels is a celebration of provenance and our relationship with Yalumba Winery. We sourced 100 Litre sized Octave barrels that were crafted in Yalumba’s onsite cooperage in the famed Barossa Valley and were previously used to mature Yalumba’s iconic The Octavius Shiraz. The smaller vessels allow for greater wood to whisky interaction compared to standard wine barrels, allowing this single malt to soak up the robust fruit forward flavours of the wine. The spirit is fully matured in these casks in Melbourne’s highly reactive climate to result in a distinctly Australian Single Malt.
The original Starward distillery was setup in 2007 in a former aircraft maintenance hanger, on the outskirts of Melbourne. Back then, Australian whisky was already well established (and centred mostly around the island of Tasmania) but bottles were difficult to track down in Australia, let alone the rest of the world. The founder of Starward, David Vitale, wanted to change this by making a whisky that could be shared and enjoyed rather than tucked away as an investment item. Vitale set out to make a quintessentially Australian product, so all of the ingredients at Starward were sourced “within a day’s drive.” This meant barley sourced from between Hunter Valley in Northern Sydney and the Adelaide Hills and Apera (a sweet Australian fortified wine) and red wine casks from Victoria to mature the whisky. The weather in Melbourne is, well, temperamental, which is much to the benefit of Starward whisky. Hot summers and cold winters, along with Melbourne’s famous ‘four seasons in a day’ encourage expansion and contraction of casks, accelerating the effects of maturation and imparting a uniquely Melbournian twist on the juice. After some early success, Starward re-homed in 2016, moving to a purpose-built unit in Melbourne’s Dockland’s Precinct, just minutes away from Melbourne’s Central Business District. The current distillery site has recently undergone a further refurbishment, improving visitor facilities including dining, bar and tour amenities allowing visitors to see the many elements of Starward, from production through to finished product.
Starward takes the unconventional step of hiring brewers and winemakers to make the whisky with the mentality being to hire in a traditional way would result in traditional results. A hallmark of the whisky, and born out of necessity in the early days, the malted barley used is actually prepared for brewing craft beers. This provides an opportunity to drive flavour and distinctive cereal notes just like a brewer does with beer. A darker coloured malt is chosen, somewhere between a Pale Ale and an Amber Ale, to deliver malty characteristics and a luscious mouthfeel. Taking another leaf out of the microbrewing handbook, the distillers use a house blend of brewing and distilling yeast to drive flavour into the wash. The result is a complex, fruity and aromatic wash, that delivers the signature profile of all Starward whiskies. The stills have been adapted in a few important ways to create a light and fruity spirit that is more like an eau-de-vie than a heavy Scotch new make spirit. Given the varying climate experienced in Melbourne, the spirit still has a custom jacket on the neck to enable consistent spirit to be produced throughout year. It also enables exploration of different distillation profiles for experimental small batches, namely the Starward projects and small batch releases.
A huge amount of flavour and all the colour in Starward comes from the red wine barrels specifically selected from some of Australia’s leading wineries. Australian winemakers have championed innovation for decades. As a new world whisky, it seemed clear that using these iconic barrels would create an iconic whisky. This came with some interesting challenges. If the barrels were re-charred– as is the norm in Scotland and America – they would lose those delicate wine flavours and textures. But filling barrels direct from the winery with new make spirit was not something commonly done. Working closely with a network of winemakers it was possible to fill these barrels still saturated with wine for most of the maturation period. And in doing so, created the template for the Australian whisky category. Having a team of winemakers at Starward allows sourcing of barrels from some of Australia’s most iconic wineries like Yalumba, Penfolds, Wolf Blass, De-Bortoli, and Wynns. These barrels vary in size from 100 litres to 300 litres and for the majority, range between French & American Oak that have stored red wine for 4-7 years.
Melbourne’s highly reactive climate is key to Starward Whisky maturation. The temperature in Melbourne can fluctuate up to 12.5 degrees Celsius within a day in summer months and even during cooler winter months, the barrels are working just as hard as barrels at the height of the short Scottish summer. The climate stimulates the interaction between spirit and wood with large changes in temperature, helping to create a richly flavoured whisky in just a few years. Melbourne is also significantly dryer than northern hemisphere whisky producers leading to barrels increasing in ABV rather than decreasing in ABV. There is no formula as to how long a barrel of whisky needs to mature. It is the decision of the team as to when the whisky is ready. It has been found that around 3 Melbourne years is just right for Starward, fulfilling founder Dave Vitale’s idea to bring a distinctly Australian Whisky to the world.
Where to buy: www.backtomine.shop
If you are a Whisky Pioneer subscriber, we hope you enjoyed this whiskey as much as we did. If you’re not yet a subscriber, and you’d like to explore exceptional whisk(e)y with us, join today to receive a 5/6cl bottle every month. Find out about our better bottles and how it works here.