Saturday, April 4, 2015

Forward Thinking – Starward Whisky

Starward Single malt Whisky
These days the term New World Whisky isn’t just a phrase to be used anymore for whiskies outside of the generic Scottish, Irish and US whisky definitions. For sometime now here in Australia it is also a term we have learnt to associate with a distillery. That distillery is New World Whisky Distillery. Great idea for a name at the time as they appeared just before the massive boom in world whisky, but in hind sight also now confusing as the name falls into common phrase. How do we work around it? Well you could just use the letters NW as appears on the distilleries bottles, or more often than not I hear the name Starward Distillery in association but which is in fact inaccurate. Starward, the name of the whisky this post will be reviewing, is actually an expression of whisky produced by NW and clearly not the name of the distillery.

To ramble on a bit more about NW for those not yet delved into this distillery, New World Whisky Distillery is Melbourne based, born out the mind of founder David Vitale with an idea to develop a modern whisky, or as the distilleries byline suggests “Combining the best of old & new”. Active since 2004, NW have hit the scene running and released its first expression, Starward Whisky, 4 years or so later. I have never met David (not even at a tasting as I always miss the visits to Sydney), and though we chatted on rare occasion over Twitter, I would hope to meet the man himself and ,pre of the team hopefully someday soon. I would use the pun “our stars have not yet aligned” (boom tish) but that would really be cheesy and I am sure the cringe. not having met is a good excuse to get to the distillery at some stage for sure because there is a hell of lot going on down there at that. To digress a wee bit further NW have a reputation for big ideas and experimentation. This post is focusing on the standard release Starward but there is some wonderful ideas coming out of this distillery that can only be left for another time. Look into them if you have not already and watch the progress.

Up-start or start-ups it seems any new distillery (at this time) do not have to try and muscle in on the big boys anymore to get noticed. Why try to make a Scotch style whisky when you can just make your style whisky. Back in the early 2000’s the earlier Australian distilleries often talked about establishing a whisky based on a Scotch they liked. Not a line towed much anymore though I can see some of the reasoning for it. It was pretty hard to convince anyone back then Australia made whisky at all. Now we as consumers want and look for difference. It almost seems like simply doing something alternate will get the attention need right? Not really as you still have to do it well. I am not a distiller, I wish I was, but I am not and I can barely brew beer well in my back room. What I do know about making whisky here in Aus is our climate is a pain in the bum to work with. Too dry, too humid, too fluctuate, and just too bloody Australian. Our current whisky laws force all Australian whisky to be aged for at least 2 years. 2 years is a long time and not just from an economical point of view. Our environment really puts stress on the spirt and wood in that period but the dictation means it is just not going to be called whisky unless you can stretch the maturation point out that far. Our laws need to change to fix this issue. Until that time distilleries like NW need to go with it and that is what NW is really achieving with Starward.

Kudos to NW for the pricing structure. It is a rare thing to be able to get your fingers on an Australian whisky under $100. Starward is hitting the mark at $79.99. It would love to see it in the $50 ranks but Australian taxes suck at best and a crippling agent for achievable pricing. Also here is whisky in completely aged in Australian Apera wood (we cannot call it sherry in Austrian anymore) that is not a ridiculous sherry bomb or displaying that hard core rain sweetness. Yes! The label on the other hand I can see as a downside to face time on a shelf. I like it but I also know how consumers think. As a designer by trade I am all over these kinds of creatives as it delivers freshness to a shelf but, I also know how much of hard slog it is to go against expectations. Don't be put off by the label as it is just being different without being stupid. In time I think it will be appreciated much more.

Starward is, as far as I am told by some with relations to the distillery, a 2yo to 2 1/2 year old whisky at most. This youth is clear in the adolescent puppy fat aromas while the palate puffs out its chest and explodes with boyish pride. Our mainland environment seems to make young whiskies thick headed and in many ways this is a good thing. It defines the region. Bananas are a common theme in all NW whiskies I have tried (and it is only a few) and this can be off putting to a seasoned whisky drinker looking for oak refinement. I can say I often do not find the green banana effect great either but I sense a change in Starward. I do not use that term green bananas lightly either when speaking about Starward historically. Over the past few years through various tastings, reviewing my old notes and drawing on memories, I have always sensed an extremely green banana nose. Even through this I have persisted with Starward and try it again at every opportunity. They are young, things change and recently something has appeared to round out more. As I had discovered at a tasting recently the thought stuck saying “that’s different”. Soon after I went to my local Dan Murphy’s, as I knew they had a much older opened bottle, and tasted again. My exploration of this old bottle displayed a much greener banana nose. "yes" I thought "this is what I remember it as... so what did I have the other day". At this point I had to by a new bottle and put it to the test.

Distiller: NW / New World Whisky Distillery
Alcohol/ABV: 43%
Type: Single Malt
Barrels: re-coopered Apera (formerly known as simply sherry)

Colour: Maple syrup

Nose: At first fruity alcohol is vaporous and even a bit tenacious as it seems to just cling to the cereal caramel cliffs while the mildest traces of aniseed whip past and into the throat. Give it some time or have a wee sip and warm butter grilled banana bread with a dusting of icing sugar chews at the senses. No really… that is exactly what it tastes like for me. I challenge you to go make some banana bread then grill it with butter and you will know what I mean.

Taste: Very much toasted cereals tending towards warm overripe bananas, caramelised brown sugar and bacon fat and an effect of condensed milk sweetness. A wine chew that is mouth filling with a mild prickle developing on the lips.

Finish: Remarkably long with a fist fight between dry alcohols and maples syrup textures while a medium heat draws in the lower chest to cheer them on.

Overall this whisky (or at least this bottle) is well filling. Big bold textures with quiff of slicked flavours. Much like a greaser of the 1950’s it is certainly a young lad deliberately going against urban grounding and looking to make his place known. An iconic 30yo Marlon Brando would be much impressed by the harley this chap is riding into town. At this point I will give it a 5 out of 7 on the D.T.W.C. scale. In fact it would be higher because pricing is great but the shear fact I don’t know if this flavour shift is a pattern for the future or simply my appreciation changing that gives me reservation. I know if I was reading this as an interested party and I was to omit the intro and score I would be thinking “hell yes”.

Really looking forward to the new Starward Wine Cask ongoing expression recently announced and of course some of the insane experiments that get such cult favour.

The Baron.