This Distillery Combines the Spirit of Australia and Scotland With Its New Whisky

It was created after several return trips to Scotland’s western 'Whisky Coast.'

<p>Courtesy of Starward Australian Whisky</p>

Courtesy of Starward Australian Whisky

The Melbourne-based Starward’s latest expression is aged in barrels from Lagavulin, the 200-year-old Scottish distillery known for its peated whisky.

When David Vitale was in the midst of dialing in the flavor profile of his nascent whisky brand, he intentionally stayed away from Scotland. The founder of Starward Australian Whisky had long been inspired by the distinct, peated flavor of Scotch whisky, but didn’t want it to influence his own spirit.

“I'm a hopeless romantic,” Vitale told Travel + Leisure. “So I'd get wrapped up in that world and try to imitate it, which would be a failure of the brand's ambition.” That ambition? To make a distinctly Australian whisky, one rooted in his home city.

“The best whiskies not only reflect their ingredients but also the culture of the place they’re made,” Vitale said. “Starward is my love letter to Melbourne.”

Vitale did find the flavor that successfully captured the essence of Melbourne, the multicultural metropolis on Australia’s southeastern coast and home to one of the country’s most exciting culinary scenes. Only then did he and his team visit Scotland, touring more than a dozen distilleries that welcomed and encouraged the fledgling Australian distillery.

Nearly two decades after first starting out, and several return trips to Scotland’s western “Whisky Coast” later, Starward has teamed up with the 200-plus-year-old Lagavulin Distillery to make the limited-release Starward Single Malt Australian Whisky Finished in ex-Lagavulin Barrels.

“You travel vicariously with whisky,” said Vitale. This first-of-its-kind spirit, then, will transport drinkers to both the idyllic green Scottish isle of Islay and the dynamic and bustling city of Melbourne.

<p>Courtesy of Starward Australian Whisky</p>

Courtesy of Starward Australian Whisky

Starward’s original whiskies — including the award-winning double grain Two-Fold, the signature single malt Nova, and Solera, the brand’s first whisky — “give people an opportunity to live that Melbourne life vicariously,” said Vitale. The spirit gets its bold sense of place thanks to how it’s made, he said, through a “very Australian lens.”

From an ingredient perspective, they use barley and wheat grown within a day’s drive of the distillery. The whisky is aged in ex-shiraz, pinot noir, and cabernet barrels they source from wineries in the nearby Yarra Valley and Barossa Valley — two of Australia’s famous wine regions — lending the liquid a reddish hue and imparting subtle tannins and notes of ripe red fruits.

Melbourne’s climate also plays a role in the finished product. Situated between two deserts, said Vitale, the Outback to the north, and Antarctica to the south, dramatic weather shifts “mean that our barrels are working hard all the time,” he noted, referring to how wood expands and contracts when the temperature changes. “We couldn't make this whisky from a process point of view anywhere else in Australia, let alone the world, and have the same product.”

<p>Courtesy of Starward Australian Whisky</p>

Courtesy of Starward Australian Whisky

Dating back to 1816, Lagavulin has been making its exceptional spirit for over two centuries. And although “geographically, you couldn't find two more contrasting places,” said Vitale, the two distilleries share some similarities, which inspired the collaborative expression. Akin to Starward aging its whisky in ex-red wine barrels, Lagavulin ages some of its whisky in ex-fortified wine barrels from Spain. During one visit to Islay, Sam Slaney, Starward’s production director, noted that Lagavulin whisky is influenced by the island’s landscape and climate.

“We've got these two worlds already interacting with each other,” Vitale said.  “What about if we take it the other way and age our whisky in peated barrels from Scotland?” Fusing the two distinct flavors together in a way that hasn’t been done before, “is true innovation,” Vitale said.

The spirit is made with Starward’s single malt, aged in Australian red wine barrels for three years before it’s transferred to Lagavulin peated Scotch whisky barrels, where it soaks up the essence of the rugged Islay coast for the next 18 months. The result has Starward’s signature notes of red berries and tropical fruits like banana and pineapple, plus, thanks to the Lagavulin barrels, the rich flavors of smoke and peat.

“The smoke creates more contrast for all of the flavors to kind of turn up and be available for you to taste,” Vitale said. “And that's exciting.”

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