Bottle of Starward Vitalis whiskey on marble table with dram
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Starward Vitalis: Australian Whisky That Can Compete With High-End Scotch

When you think about Australian whisky, what do you think about? Actually, do you even think about Australian whisky? Even though the Aussies have been making it for about 150 years, with more than 100 distilleries currently operating, this category really hasn’t gotten much attention in the U.S. And, until recently, there haven’t been many brands to sample on liquor store shelves, aside from the random expensive bottle from Tasmanian distillery Sullivans Cove. But that’s all been changing over the past few years. One distillery is gaining more attention than the rest (deservedly so): Starward.

Whisky and red wine casks: a match made in heaven

Starward was founded in Melbourne 15 years ago by David Vitale. Its two core expressions were the first to gain traction stateside: Nova and Two-Fold. What ties these, and all the Starward whiskies together, is the fact they’re matured in Australian red wine casks. This could be viewed as an obvious synergistic step in the production process given that Australia is known for its wine, particularly reds.

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Two-Fold is a “double grain whisky,” meaning it’s a blend of wheat and barley spirit, both of which are aged in red wine barrels including shiraz, cabernet, and pinot noir. Nova, on the other hand, is a more straight-forward single malt that undergoes a similar maturation process. About that maturation: These are relatively young whiskies at about three years old, but according to the distillery, the climate in Melbourne leads to accelerated aging because of the temperature fluctuations and humidity, which boosts interaction between whisky and wood.

Welcome the new kid on the block: Starward Vitalis

Recently, Starward upped its game with the brand-new Vitalis release. It’s a single malt that’s meant to celebrate the distillery’s 15 years of whisky making. It also comes with an elevated price tag of $150, which is a bold ask considering the relative newcomer status of Aussie whisky. What separates this single malt from the others is the age (four to 10 years old), and the types of barrels the whisky was matured in (tawny, bourbon, apera, and rum).

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“Fifteen years ago, when I decided to have a go at creating an approachable whisky for all, I could only have hoped it would take Starward on this trajectory,” Vitale said in a press release. “Great whiskies speak to the place that they are made, and to be able to share a Melbourne-made, flavorful whisky with the world for over fifteen years…well, that is something that I will forever be grateful for.”

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Starward Vitalis tasting notes

Take a sip of this whisky, you’ll feel a little bit grateful too…or at least pleased you’re getting to experience a lovely and altogether different whisky from what you’ve encountered before. The combination of cask types has resulted in a juicy but slightly tannic spirit with notes of sour grape, raisin, spice, vanilla, and a hint of dark chocolate on the palate.

The color makes you think “sherry cask Scotch,” but the flavor is something completely different, and that’s a very good thing. This isn’t Scotch, after all; this is Australian single malt whisky with a personality and viewpoint all its own, and it stands out as such.

What remains to be seen is if people are going to shell out $150 for a bottle of single malt that doesn’t have a name like The Macallan, Bowmore, or The Dalmore on it.

Curious whisky drinkers with a desire to move beyond the familiar, take note. Starward is making some excellent whisky, and this high-end bottle is the most complex member of its growing family of expressions.

[$150; starward.com]

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