Melbourne

A Stopover at Starward

Posted by: Nick and Ted

1 Starward 1

They grow up so fast, don’t they? It was under two years ago that Whisky Waffle first visited New World Distillery/Starward in their Essendon Airport location and were impressed by their hardworking staff and their delicious whisky. Fast forward to the present and they’ve raised the bar considerably, upsizing their apparently insufficient aeroplane hangar for a gigantic warehouse, which in turn will likely be bursting at the seams in two years time.

1 Starward distillery

Starward has been a very busy distillery. On Nick’s previous visit he noted how staff worked around the clock on three distillations a day to create as much product as humanly possible – a key factor in keeping their prices within an accessible range for we mere mortals. This commendable approach has led to two key outcomes: a wide range of people have been able to try the whisky and their bond store has filled up in no time.

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The pressing lack of space at the old airport hangar led to a drastic solution: a new home. Their new premise is much closer to the city of Melbourne, located at 50 Bertie Street Port Melbourne, a short tram ride away from the city.

The cavernous open plan industrial space, some two and a half times larger than the Essendon facility, easily fits all the distillery equipment, the bond store and a slick bar area (although apparently they haven’t managed to find space for the basketball hoop yet). Also found within the walls is a team of fantastic staff members, such as Sasha, Rachel (how’s the hunt for an Aussie husband going?) and Cameron (cheers for showing us around and letting us try some of the best new-make in the business. You’re not really a spud).

1 Starward

One of the big highlights of visiting the distillery (apart from the tree growing next to the bar) is the chance to try a variety of the New World Projects range, which are the result of the distillers getting creative in their spare time. We were lucky enough to sample the PX Cask #3 (sweet, fruity and now out of stock), Dram Full Single Cask #1 (oaky with a herbal finish), Lui Bar Selection #3 (spicy and rich, our pick of the session) and the First Distillery Last Release (cask strength and punchy).

1 Starward tree

Thanks to everyone at Starward for the warm welcome on a cold day. It’s great having a distillery right in the city so that locals and tourists can easily visit. If you have a spare moment we can highly recommend heading down to Port Melbourne and dropping into one of Australia’s hardest working distilleries.

Starward Distillery is open Friday and Saturday 12pm-10pm and Sunday 12-8pm. Tours are conducted on those days at 2pm and 5pm.

1 Starward still

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A Brave New World: Diageo invest in Australian distillery

Posted by: Ted

The whisky scene in Australia, by its very nature as a young and emerging industry, has hitherto always been gloriously independent. Brave and adventurous souls carving out their own mark in this new frontier of whisky making, men and women free to pursue their own ideologies and dreams. Very different to the crusty, entrenched old world, where the multitudes of distilleries are weighed down by centuries of tradition and the idea of a truly independent producer is hard to come by in the face of hungry multinationals.

Diageo

It was always going to happen you know. Never a doubt. You can bet your bottom dollar that ever since Bill Lark emerged from the Tasmanian Highlands as an enlightened being, the big boys have been keeping a very close eye on developments in the antipodes. If the Australian whisky scene succeeded in its ambitions, and my word it most certainly has, the sharks were always going to be circling ready. There have been a few nibbles here and there over the years, but finally someone has taken a proper bite.

Diageo, global spirits bigwig and owner of globally renown brands such as Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff and Baileys, has decided to take a chance navigating by the southern constellations and bought a minority share in Victoria’s New World Whisky Distillery, makers of Starward whisky. Starward, with excellent releases such as the Apera cask single malt or the quirky ginger beer cask, has been making waves both at home and increasingly overseas, so it is no wonder that Diageo has considered it to be a worthy venture to invest in.

How this moment changes the landscape in Australia is yet to be seen. It is only logical that as the industry increases, the big boys will continue to invest in distilleries they consider to be appropriate extensions of their brand. To be honest this is actually a really good thing for Australia, as it will allow for much greater growth within the sector, solidify the local market, give better extension into new overseas markets and help whisky in this country mature and gain further acceptance as an world class product.

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But… at the same time we have to hope that this evolution doesn’t come at the cost of the attitude and culture that makes Australian whisky unique. It would be sad if that spark was lost through homogenisation and the finance-driven whims of corporate overlords. The whisky produced by Australian distillers is exceptional, a sentiment backed up by a slew of prestigious awards; if the quality of the spirit was diminished through bottom-dollar bean-counting it would be a slap in the face to the ideals of the men and women who have worked hard to bring this industry to life. Then again, even the hardest-boiled rager-against-the-machine has to admit somewhere along the line that these guys seem to have some vague idea about what they’re doing, so hopefully good stewardship and passion for the product will win the day.

Actually, come to think of it, something quite extraordinary may emerge out of all this. As we all know, Diageo’s flagship whisky is the Johnnie Walker, the highest profile blended whisky in the world. If Diageo keep adding Australian cup winners to its stable, who knows, maybe we’ll see the release of a true-blue Aussie blend! Strewth, prepare ya cakehole for the dinky-di Jonno Walkabout “MAAAAATE” travel-exclusive series, featuring the likes of the ‘Bronze Surfie’, the ‘Flamin’ Pink Galah’ and of course, the ‘Blue Bogan’.

The future is here and it’s a Brave New World. Watch this space.

New World Projects Ginger Beer Cask

Reviewed by: Mooresy

New World Projects Ginger Beer Cask

There are some interesting experimental drams in the market, often tucked behind the more famous and mainstream variant at a bar, or in old dusty collections held by people who bought a one off bottling at a garage sale. New World Distillery on the other hand is not tucking their experiments behind anything, and the operation is far from dusty being more akin to a well-resourced military installation. Housed in a disused aeroplane hangar is the cross between Willy Wonka’s factory and Area 51, although the focus is on whisky and not chocolate or alien secrets.

Being founded on the principle of showing the world what whisky can be, with a “sky’s the limit” attitude, it is no surprise that the team that brought us Starward would release something that stretches the concept of whisky to new heights.

On the nose, you’d be hard pressed to pick it as a whisky. But the same can be said for other expressions from many different distilleries that have played with different casks. It you’ve only ever drunk a bourbon cask Highland whisky, then putting the nose into a PX finished Islay might create the same level of confrontation and confusion when told that not only is it whisky but it is as single malt as the next dram. The information that can be beaten out of the loyal distillery workers reveals that it is a virgin cask that has been stained with fermented ginger beer that has its own secret recipe. Starward whisky is then aged for three months on top of its normal maturation to soak up the gingery goodness.

Ginger is really the buzz word here. So much ginger. It smells like ginger and when you stare at in your half empty glass it even starts to look like ginger. That might be the half empty element assisting with that. The classic tropical fruit that is a signature of the Starward is still present, however. Nice aromas of pineapple, banana and mango. A good amount of citrus that mixes will with the ginger smell to give it a spicy aroma. It also smells like ginger.

Once tasted it will continue to confuse and delight. The mouthfeel is particularly good and I’m sure the 47.7% alcohol by volume was very carefully chosen with the texture in mind. On the palate, you guessed it: cloves. Also ginger. There is a good combination of spice and fruit to create the feel of a cocktail and it may yet be a mixologist’s inspiration. It is naturally sweet with some light vanilla and the prickle from the spiciness brings that out even more, in the way that sweet and sour emphasise both rather than diminish either. The finish is nice and long, due to the intensity of a dominant flavour and also the not-insubstantial alcohol content.

It is probably plagiarism to sum up this whisky as weird and wonderful, as I am sure that many reviews would use the same phrase. It is something that I would look out for tucked away at a bar or nestled in among the fur stoles and incomplete jigsaws at a markets, but given that this modern and funky take on whisky is in such high demand – evidenced by the fact that this is the second batch – it is probably unlikely to be there. Better to head out to New World Distillery, bonk a cooper on the bonce, and run off with your own bottle.

P.S. Neither Mooresy nor the Whisky Waffle boys advocate violence towards people in the whisky industry. We love those guys. For obvious reasons.

★★★★

Bakery Hill: the final frontier

Posted by: Nick

Bakery Hill Tasting 5

Many bakers. Many hills.

Lark? Check.

Nant? Yep.

Limeburners? Sure have!

Hellyers Road? Of course.

Starward? Been there, done that.

Bakery Hill? Ah.

There it was: the one black mark on my record of Australian whisky tasting. I had never tried anything from Victoria’s acclaimed Bakery Hill Distillery. This had to be rectified. But how?

I decided to employ the tactic used by whisky drinkers throughout the ages: I would go to a bar.

The bar in question was the Woodlands Hotel in Coburg. And despite not being near any trees, let alone woods, it was an excellent establishment. As well as providing me with multiple pints of locally produced cider and one of the best burgers I’ve had in my life, they also stocked not one, not two, not even three, but four (I know, FOUR!) different bottles of Bakery Hill.

I glanced across the table at my friend and drinking-buddy-of-the-moment Viv, and nodded. Either by telepathy or the fact that we had previously discussed doing a tasting, we both knew: tonight was the night.

Bakery Hill Tasting 2

My drinking buddy Viv (sadly Ted was in the wrong state)

The four varieties were each as tempting as the next. There was the classically titled Classic Malt. Next to it was the doubly exciting Double Wood. I had a strong urge to try the Cask Strength. And finally, how could we resist the Peated Malt. One of each, we demanded.

One sip into the Classic Malt, I knew that I was onto something. It was an enormous revelation: an elation! Which was also my reaction upon trying it. Raisins, condensed milk, limes, dates. Deliciousness. Viv concurred, labelling it simply: “tasty” and admitting he could drink an entire bottle.

The Classic Malt smelt amazing, but the Double Wood smelt better with notes of vanilla, even dark rum! It was longer, more complex and nuanced. Viv decided it was “tastier”, and “what whisky should be like”.

The Cask Strength was next. And boy was the finish long. It was warm with caramel, spicy cinnamon – even garlic. Viv decreed it “tasty” and claimed that it was so smooth you would not think it 60%.

Finally came the Peated Malt. We possibly had saved the best til last. There was smoke and there was vanilla. There was smoke and there was fruit salad. There was smoke and there was… plenty. This was no Islay peat monster. It was subtle, without compromising on the smoke. Viv agreed: “tasty smoke”.

Bakery Hill Tasting 3

This is the one. Equal best. With three others…

We left the bar oblivious to the cold, kept warm by our whisky coats. It had been a fascinating night, tasting the range of Bakery Hill products vertically while not ending up horizontally. If you are ever near the Woodlands Hotel in Coburg, nip in for a nip. It is well worth it. I already had a huge level of respect for Australian whisky when I entered the bar. And I left it with even more.

Bakery Hill Tasting 1

Mmm… tasty…

Waffling at Whisky Live

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Whisky Live 1

That’s right, we got Whisky Waffle shirts!

“If you love whisky, it’s the place to be”, said Colin, whisky enthusiast and fellow drunkard. It was 4pm. We’d been imbibing the amber nectar for three hours. To be honest, conversations about the merits of whisky were not exactly hard to come by at this end of the afternoon. We, the Whisky Waffle boys, knew that we had come to the right place. And where was that you may ask? It could only be Whisky Live 2015, Melbourne edition.

As semi-amateur whisky journalists (just go with it, ok!) we were keen to make it to Australia’s premier whisky event, despite Jetstar’s best efforts to delay us. Oh, and Public Transport Victoria didn’t help us much, either. As a consequence, it was remarkable that we wandered into the St Kilda Town Hall a mere 10 minutes late.

We were greeted with green shoulder bags, complimentary Glencairns and more whiskies than you could poke a valinch at (it’s a whisky thing, look it up). Our first port of call was to familiar faces: we kicked off our whisky journey sampling some new make spirit with Dean Jackson (and soon-to-be-solo distiller Robbie) from Redlands Estate and sampled some glorious Lark Classic Cask with Tas Whisky Tours’ Brett Steel. Good to hang out with the boys from back home.

Whisky Live 2

Nick, admiring Brett’s beard

We then hopped across the pond to visit Greg Petry, whose strong North American accent clearly revealed that his product was made by the NZ Whisky Company. Go figure. Incredibly, his youngest single malt was a mere 23 years old. After lamenting that we could not combine the initial flavour of the Doublewood with the finish of the 27 year old, we jetted off once more, this time landing in Japan. Here we learned how to pronounce Hakushu (Huck-shoo), and impressed a man in comedic Japanese sushi bar attire that we actually were interested in trying the Suntory Kakubin neat rather than in its traditional highball form (soda water, lemon, ice).

Using the stars, we returned to the New World to discover… cocktails? That’s right, the Lads from Starward were making Old Fashioneds, although it was their single malt we had come to try. Despite their wine cask being aimed at ‘real’ whisky drinkers, we both agreed that we still preferred the apera cask. Shows what we know (we’re semi-amateurs remember!). We then had a ‘Rich’ conversation with our friend from William Grant and Sons about the Balvenie. Ted was pleased about knocking back some 21 Year Old Port Wood without lowering the level of his own bottle! Fred, Independent Beverage Consultant at large, talked us through the range of Glenfiddichs and produced, to gasps of awe, a bottle of 26 Year Old from behind the bar. Yes please, we said. Our new friends Adam and Adam spied the gold lettering from the other side of the room and were more than happy to join us for a nip!

Whisky Live 3

26 year old whisky is best enjoyed in the company of Adams

Never being ones to turn down a free feed, we relined our stomachs to see us through the rest of the afternoon. Our next destination: India, and the distillery of Paul John. We mentioned our India-based whisky writing colleague, the Whisky Lady, to master distiller Michael John D’Souza – India’s a tiny country, not many people – they’re bound to know her, right? (Yeah right). “You mean Carissa?” he replied. The whisky world is a small place indeed.

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The newest converts to the Paul John phenomenon.

The whisky itself was a revelation. In fact, it was brilliant! Particularly the aptly named Brilliance, which tasted like nothing else that day. The peated varieties also tickled our fancy, which unfortunately could not be said of the Dry Fly wheat whisky, makers of the infamous Washington Wheat. Admittedly we spent as much time waffling as tasting at this end of the afternoon, the lubricant effect of the whisky loosening our tongues somewhat.

The moment of truth arrived. It was time to try the Glenlivet Founders Reserve, the replacement for our beloved Glenlivet 12 Year Old. And it tasted… well… decent. Maybe there’s hope yet. The rest of the range impressed us, too, in particular the Naddura Oloroso (plus: “they have dried banana here!” enthused Ted). We moved down the line to the mysterious Finlaggen, the dependable Bowmore and the classy Auchentoshan (where Nick drunkenly confessed his undying love for the distillery… repeatedly: “when I went there…” “…my FAVOURITE 12 year old…” “…did I mention I’ve been there?” etc etc).

Ted then whisked him away to attend a master class with master tweed wearer Dan Hutchins-Read to talk about the merits of a whisky that has definitely impressed us recently: the Glenrothes. As there were only four attendees to the session, we had ample time to wax lyrical and Ted may have fallen into the same trap as Nick (“I’ve written a lot of nice things about Glenrothes…” “…I love how you’re all about the vintages…” “…did I mention I’ve written a lot of nice things about you?” etc etc).

Whisky Live 5

Fashionable as our WW shirts were, we couldn’t match Dan for style!

After Nick had calmed Ted down, we staggered off on a mission to find the dram we’d been waiting all day for: the Laphroaig 15 Year Old. To our dismay, we were informed by Australia’s number one whisky fanatic, Dan Woolley, that they had long since run dry. But after seeing our sad little faces, he took pity and muttered that if we were to come back straight after the session finished he might be able to find a little something for us. We consoled ourselves by pairing a glass of Laphroaig 10 year Old with some oysters and a meeting with legendary bourbon distiller and maker of Russell’s Reserve: Eddie Russell. We may have been a little enthusiastic at this end of the day, but Eddie was a true southern gent and took us in his stride.

4.30 ticked over. The bottles began to vanish from the stalls. We wandered around dodging the polite requests of the security guards to leave. We had a mission to complete: and boy was the 15 Year Old worth it.

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Laphroaig’s man of steel, Dan Woolley

As we stumbled out of the St Kilda Town Hall amongst hordes of whisky fanatics, en route to the closest pub, we mused about our day. We had come to Whisky Live expecting to find many great whiskies and we had not been disappointed (46 times over, in fact!). But to be honest, the real joy of the day was to celebrate whisky with a bunch of fellow wafflers. That in itself was worth the price of admission.

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Whisky Live. Good times.

Whisky Live to Hit Melbourne This Weekend!

Posted by Nick and Ted

Whisky Live promo pic

Scores of whiskies, two boys, one room… sounds like a decent weekend!

That’s right, the Whisky Waffle boys are making their way across the pond to the Melbourne leg of Australia’s premiere whisky festival. The session features whiskies from and home and and away, ranging from the Glenlivet Founders Reserve, the Hibiki 17yo and the new Laprohaig 15yo to the Starward Wine Cask Edition 1, the Dry Fly Straight Wheat Whisky, and the NZ Whisky Co 1987 27yo Single Malt. The boys are also very excited for the opportunity to meet Eddie Russell of the Wild Turkey distillery and Russells Reserve fame.

Stay tuned for increasingly creative tweets as the day wears on, and give us a shout out via Twitter or Facebook (or the blog) if you want a personalised on-the-spot review or musing about something on the day. We will be attending the (sold-out) Saturday (25/7) afternoon session starting at 1pm, although we believe there are still tickets left for Friday (24/7) and Saturday (25/7) evenings (don’t quote us on that).

For more information, including the full whisky list, you can visit the official event website here.

See you on the floor when the Whisky goes Live!

Starward Single Malt

Reviewed by: Nick

Starward

Regular readers of this blog would be forgiven for thinking that all of Australia’s world class whisky is produced in my home state of Tasmania. While I’ll still claim that most of it is, I will readily admit that some stellar drams are being produced on that tiny island up north, which some refer to as the Australian mainland.

One of the most exciting up-and-coming distilleries in the New World of whisky making is the appropriately named ‘New World Whisky Distillery’, which has been releasing whisky since 2013 under the name Starward. And there is a lot to like about it.

For a start, there’s the location. New World is based in Melbourne, the cultural hub of the country (sorry Sydney), and with a bar onsite at the distillery the city has gained a wonderful venue to sample spirits straight from the metaphorical horse’s mouth.

Secondly, there is the label. Starward is an alluring name for a whisky and the gold constellations streaking across a black background capture this image perfectly.

Thirdly there is the price. Australian whisky has the reputation for a remarkably full-bodied flavour, although at an equally remarkable full-bodied price. Starward bucks this trend, providing a local drop that will not break the bank (although perhaps dent the wallet a bit).

Finally, and unquestionably most importantly, there is the flavour. On the nose it is lively: this is a young whisky, but it is far from immature. There are notes of oranges, chardonnay and toffee. No doubting the country of this whisky’s origin.

On the palate there are certainly notes of the raisiny flavours emparted by sherry barrel maturation, although technically speaking, the barrels contained Apera: sherry made in Australia not Spain. Sweetness spreads across the tongue and the orange returns, this time with chocolate, giving a jaffa-like taste. I also picked up elements of glacé cherries and raspberry shortcake. As you do.

The finish is short, but not disappointingly so. There are hints of oak to be found as well as spicy, peppery elements. It is certainly pleasing enough to encourage a second sip!

While the Starward is not the most subtle or nuanced whisky you are ever likely to come across, it is undoubtedly really pleasant to drink. The distillery itself sums it up best with its claim: “Just like the country in which it is made, Starward is youthful, rich and bright”.

It is also just across the water. Whisky Waffle may have to pay it a visit sometime…

★★★