Starward

The 2019 Waffle Awards

Posted by: Nick and Ted

2019 awards

2019 has been a big year for the Whisky Waffle lads: highlights have included being highly commended at the Icons of Whisky Awards, hosting the Tas Whisky Week Northern Night, relaunching the Whisky Waffle Podcast (spread the word!) and so many Tasmanian distillery visits. As the year comes to a close, we celebrate our Waffle Awards: the best of what the 2019 had to offer us!

1 The Isle of the Drammed Award Whisky Waffle

The Isle of the Drammed Award for the best Tasmanian whisky

As the internet’s number 1 location for Tasmanian whisky content we like to recognise our very favourite. This year the Isle of the Drammed Award goes to…

Heartwood Heartgrove #1

1 Heartgrove

What happens when two of our favourite Tasmanian whisky people (and previous Bill Lark Award winners) team up to combine unique rye spirit and fabulous sherry and muscat casks? You get this bottle: Heartgrove. Sweet and rich fruit notes are layered over the more earthy rye characteristics forming an outstanding drop: as drinkable as it is fascinating!

2 The Drams Down Under Award

The Drams Down Under Award for the best mainland Australian whisky

A new award! There are more and more wonderful drops being made across the water on mainland Australia: so many, in fact, that we thought we’d create a category just for them! The first ever winner of the Drams Down Under Award is…

Archie Rose Rye Malt Whisky

2 Archie Rose

More rye! We’re beginning to sound like Jim Murray! Archie Rose, however, deserves this one. While a deep caramelly rye may not be to everyone’s tastes it has certainly scratched an itch for the Whisky Waffle boys who were impressed with its depth and complexity – especially for a young whisky matured in virgin oak – and all at a reasonable price point! It really feels like the first page in a new chapter for Australian whisky and we’re happy to be there from the start!

2 The Tartan Slipper Award Whisky Waffle

The Tartan Slipper Award for the best Scottish whisky

Despite our love of whiskies made in Australia, we still recognise Scotland as the motherland – and have discovered some stellar drops along the way. The best of the lot was the…

Glenfiddich Fire & Cane

3 Fire and Cane

Everybody knows Glenfiddich and what it’s all about. That doesn’t mean they can’t occasionally bust an ace out of their sleeve and surprise people though. Part of their Experimental Series, the Fire & Cane has been one of the gem finds of the year.

Turns out that peated Speyside malts finished in South American rum casks is a killer combo. The softer Highland peat combines perfectly with the sweet notes developed from the rum finish, creating a brilliantly balanced dram that will appeal even to those who don’t like smoke. The best bit? It’s under $100AUD. It’s hands down one of our favourite whiskies of the year and has led to several of our friends reassessing their relationship with Glenfiddich.

3 The Pocket Pleaser Award Whisky Waffle

The Pocket Pleaser Award the perfect pick for the parched penny pincher

Buying whisky is expensive! We try and write as many reviews per year as we can, but directing our income towards things like food and mortgage often (but not always) takes priority – which is why we love a bargain! The 2019 Pocket Pleaser goes to…

Starward Two Fold

4 Starward Two Fold

Top shelf schmop shelf, the middle shelf is where things are really at. That’s where the bulk of sales come from – decent, everyday whisky for a reasonable price. Aussie whisky has always been too expensive to fit into that bracket – until now!

Let’s be clear, the Starward Two Fold isn’t the best Aussie whisky out there, but for the price, it’s amazing! This is a $70AUD Aussie whisky, which means it’s squarely competing with your cheaper single malts and pimped up blends. Clever blending of wheat and malt spirits and the use of wine casks keeps the price-point down and the wallet happy. This is a perfect summer dram for sharing freely with all your mates.

4 The Weirdsky Award Whisky Waffle

The Weirdsky Award for the most WTF whisky

Delicious innovation or hard-to-drink novelty? It could be either in this category as we celebrate the most envelope-pushing, or simply the silliest whisky of the year. This year’s Weirdsky goes to:

Whipper Snapper Project Q

5 Project Q

There’s no denying it – Whipper Snapper Distillery’s Project Q is the weirdsky of the entire decade. We first tried it as part of our ‘Mystery Whisky’ segment on our podcast (episode 13); I knew what it was while m’colleague was going in blind, but that still didn’t stop me from wondering whether I had landed on a different planet.

The key is in the ingredients, all sourced locally by Whipper Snapper from Western Australia. Malted barley and corn won’t raise any eyebrows, it’s the third, rather more unusual grain that’s the kicker. Quinoa, the South American staple beloved of hipsters and the health conscious, is what gives the Project Q its unique flavour. It’s hard to describe – spicy, earthy and nutty, with overtones of melting plastic, old car dashboard and engine grease. The cost of quinoa means that this will probably only ever be a rare oddity, but if you can find it, it will make you rethink everything you know about whisky. A must try for the adventurous.

5 The Bill Lark Award Whisky Waffle

The Bill Lark Award for service to the Tasmanian whisky industry

One of the best things about running Whisky Waffle is meeting the wonderful people behind the scenes creating and selling a range of amazing drams. While there are so many deserving and hardworking people in the state, each year we like to recognise one individual who has helped make the Tassie scene what it is today. This year the worthy winner is:

Jane Sawford

6 Bill Lark Jane

Believe it or not, Tasmanian whisky was not always flying off the shelves as it is now. Instead of having no stock left to sell, once upon a time Tasmanian producers could not give the stuff away. This all changed when Jane Overeem decided to hit the road to promote her father’s produce to the world and along the way raise the profile of the entire state’s wares. Suddenly people were sitting up and taking notice, beginning the journey that has seen the industry go from strength to strength.

Jane has taken on senior roles not only within Overeem, but Lark as well, and has been involved in organising countless whisky events within the state and on the mainland. These days she and husband Mark have founded Sawford Distillery and are producing whisky which promises to be something special. On top of that she is also helping manage White Label Distillery, the country’s first contract distillery.

A brand new industry needs pioneers leading the way and forging a path so that others can follow. It is safe to say that the Tasmanian whisky scene would not be what it is today without Jane Sawford.

6 The Golden Dram Whisky Waffle

The Golden Dram for the best dram whisky in the world

And finally, the top drop! We tried many drams throughout the year (read: many many) but love to pick out one that stands above the rest. This year 2019’s best whisky is…

Corowa Bosque Verde

7 Corowa Bosque Verde

Sometimes a whisky comes at you unexpectedly from the side and completely throws you off balance. That was the Corowa Distilling Co.’s Bosque Verde for us this year. When we first tried it in a bar, I drunkenly demanded the barman source me a bottle. He acquiesced to my request and I have zero regrets over that decision.

100L American oak ex-port barrels aged for just over two years and bottled at 60% isn’t that unusual for Australia, but Drucey and his boys have worked dark magic with the Bosque Verde. Essentially, it’s like they’ve taken a super fruity Christmas cake, blended it up and poured it into a bottle. Another key tasting note we had was leather and tobacco, like a cowboy in an old Marlboro ad. Young, complex and feisty, this is no beginner’s whisky, and it keeps on drawing us back time and again to delve into the layers. If you want to know what gets Whisky Waffle excited, this is it.

An epilogue:

We’d like to mention a couple of honourable mentions for two new innovative Tassie drops. The Adams Pinot Noir Slosh Cask for trying new grains and aging-encouragement techniques and the Hobart Whisky Stout Cask for actually making it taste a little stouty.

And finally our Founders Reserve Award (the dishonourable mention) to the Macallan Fine and Rare 60 Year Old. Whisky is for drinking and sharing with friends, not for sitting on shelves as a status symbol! Runner up is Ted for his dance moves after the Tasman Whisky launch in Burnie…

Wafflers 4

Thanks everyone for your continued support. Here to the next decade of Waffling!

#WaffleAwards

Starward Two Fold Double Grain Australian Whisky

Reviewed by: Ted

It used to be that if you wanted to buy an Australian whisky, your choice was pretty much from a never-ending cavalcade of single cask, single malt releases that cost more kidneys than you could really afford on a regular basis. To be honest, it’s still like that, but these days the scene is starting to get a lot more diverse as more players enter the game and start to experiment with different styles.

People are prepared to pay for quality of course, but on the whole, prices for the Aussie amber still remain prohibitively high for the general market who want a decent local dram that isn’t going to eviscerate their wallets. Starward Distillery in Melbourne is trying to change that with a zesty little number pitched squarely at the average punter.

A bottle of Starward Two Fold Double Grain Australian Whisky sitting in front of a Christmas tree

Starward’s Two Fold Australian Whisky has an interesting trick up it’s sleeve that helps them to keep the price point well below $100AUD, which is a rare for a local drop (it’s currently $65AUD on their website). As well as using the standard malted barley, Starward have added wheat into the mix, making a ‘double grain’ whisky that ‘marries two quintessentially Australian grains’ together.

This is quite a clever move for a number of reasons. For one, Australia grows a lot of wheat – around 18.5million tonnes in 2018-19 in fact (which is actually down from previous years). In comparison, barley only managed about half that amount in the same period.

In terms of spirit production costs, wheat makes a lot more sense. In comparison to barley, which has to go through the whole malting process and then get distilled in fairly inefficient pot-stills, wheat spririt is generally produced on giant industrial column stills that allow for continuous production. In fact, Manildra Group’s Shoalhaven plant in Nowra, where Starward sources its wheat spirit from, is the largest grain neutral spirit (GNS) distillery in the South East Asia region.

Flavour-wise though, that’s where things start to get a bit more competitive. Neutral spirits made from grains such as wheat are much lighter and take far less influence from the cask compared to the heavier, oilier pot still-made malts. Hence why they have traditionally been used as the ‘silent’ base for Scottish blends, with small amounts of single malts added in on top to provide the flavour.

Starward’s ‘thing’ has always been Australian wine cask maturation and the Two Fold is no exception to that rule, in this case doubling-down on it. According to Starward they use [sic] “Lightly charred or steamed barrels. Sourced from Australian wineries that make great shiraz, cabernets and pinot noirs. Often filled fresh when the barrel is still wet with wine.” Starward’s own malt spirit and the wheat spirit are aged separately before being blended at a ratio of about 2:3 before being bottled at 40%abv.

A bottle of Starward whisky wearing a christmas jumper and santa hat sitting on a red brick in a herb garden. Yes, that is a bit random I know

Getting into the Christmas spirit

Speaking of the bottle, Starward has always killed it with their label art and the Two Fold is no exception, with a gorgeous blue, black and gold label with an unusual shape that stands out from the pack. Colour-wise, there is no mistaking that the spirit has spent its life in ex-wine casks, sporting a ruddy copper hue.

Flavour-wise, the Two Fold is a certified drinker. The nose is creamy and fruit-driven, with peaches, red grapes and banana mixed with a generous hit of vanilla with chocolate/cereal notes that make me think of Weetbix slice. There’s also an interesting nutty, meaty quality that sits underneath.

The mouth is relatively spicy, thanks to the wheat, and dry from the wine. The body is light and creamy across the mid-palate with a relatively short, tannin-driven finish, although there’s enough linger to make you keep wanting to come back for another go.

David Vitale and the Starward team have really pulled it off with the Two Fold. Low price certainly doesn’t equal cheap whisky in this case. Even better, it comes in a 700ml bottle. I think that the Two Fold is an excellent dram for the Aussie summer – the wine-driven flavours would pair perfectly at a BBQ, it’s light enough in the heat and the price means that it’s ideal to casually share amongst friends. If you’re looking for a solid local dram this festive season, the Starward Two Fold is a no-brainer.

***

PS. It’s nearly Christmas, so it’s about time for a dodgy cracker joke –

Q: What’s a grain spirit’s favourite Christmas carol
A: Silent Night

March Madness Round 2

Posted by: Nick

Ok, I know, technically it’s no longer March, but Whisky’s greatest elimination challenge continues unabated, pitting distillers from around the world in a series of tense and often unfair head to head bouts. Round 1 has been run and won and the results are as follows:

Round 2 Whisky Waffle March Madness

Click to enlarge

There were a number of tense tussles throughout the initial qualifying round – several of which involved local drams. In an all-Australian affair, Starward narrowly defeated recent award winner Hellyers Road by claiming 54% of the vote. Whisky Waffle also bid a tearful adieu to Bunnahabhain, defeated by Tassie champion Sullivans Cove which enjoyed 58% success. The other Tassie dram to bow out was Nant, defeated by regular pocket-pleaser Glen Moray.

However the fun does not stop there; as we fondly farewell 32 grand drams, we turn our attention to the subsequent 32. And my, what decisions we will have to make! The round is headlined by some all Australian bouts: Limeburners take on Overeem and Belgrove come face to face against the godfather himself! Elsewhere, the salty kings Laphroaig and Springbank go head to head and there is a battle of the Glens: Glenrothes vs Glenfarclas. A battle sneaking under the radar, but causing me much grief, is the number 3 seed Lagavulin taking on another favourite of mine: Glendromach. Holy. Crap.

How will it end? Who will triumph? YOU DECIDE! As with the previous round, leave your votes in a comment or on social media – or in an email to whiskywaffle@gmail.com

Vote for as many as you like, but feel free to leave any you’ve not tried. The more people who vote the better – and drumming up support for your personal favourite is most definitely allowed. Happy voting fellow Wafflers. Lets see who comes out on top!

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 16: Starward Solera 43%

Posted by: Ted

On the sixteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Starward Solera whisky. This is the second entry on the advent calendar from Melbourne-based outfit New World Distillery. Solera is a process used in the aging of spirits and other liquids including whisky, rum, brandy and even vinegar to help control consistency in flavour and quality, whereby liquid is progressively transferred between a series of barrels as it ages. At bottling time, a portion of the barrel containing the oldest liquid is drawn off and then topped up from the next-youngest barrel and so-on up the line until new spirit is added to the ‘youngest’ barrel. The barrels are never fully drained, meaning that some of the product from previous fillings will always remain and be carried right through into the end product.

Starward’s version uses 40-50yo Apera barrels (Australian sherry), meaning that the nose is rich and pleasantly sweet, with cooking spices and dried fruit. The mouth is dry and fruity, with oaky undertones and a nice citrusy finish. The great news is that thanks to the solera process, the same delicious flavours in my glass should be present in any other bottle that you come across, meaning that the excellent Starward Solera is one dram that you’ll be able to come back to time and time again.


#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 3: Starward Wine Cask 41%

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Starward Wine Cask whisky. Made in Port Melbourne by the hardest working crew in Aussie whisky, as it’s name suggests the Wine Cask (now rebranded as the Nova by the looks of things) is matured in ex-shiraz barrels from the Barossa Valley.

Thanks to the casking choice the nose is spicy with overtones of grilled meat, cinnamon and wine gums, while the flavour on the mouth is sweet and tanninic, with a honey and fennel seed finish. Starward proves that not only can Australian whisky taste great, it can also be affordable too.

#whitepossumspirits

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 3

Posted by: Nick

In this exciting episode/drunken romp we include the following segments:

– The Waffle, where we discuss what a single malt whisky actually is
– The Whisky, where we drink the Starward single malt and the Laphroaig Quarter Cask
– Sour Plums, where Ted makes Nick look like a complete pretender. Well, even more of a complete pretender; and:
– Drinking buddies, where a third voice joins us for a chat – and this one speaks in a Scottish accent!

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.

1 barrels

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

2015 Waffle Awards

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Whisky Waffle Logo 1

Welcome one and all to the most prestigious imaginary awards ceremony in the world of whisky writing. The Waffle boys have ignored the Australian summer heat and donned their black tie to present a group of worthy winners with an assortment of atypical accolades. All winning whiskies have been sampled by the lads in 2015 for the first time – although surely (hopefully) not the last. So, ladies and gentlemen, please find your table, help yourself to the canapés and sit back and enjoy: the 2015 Waffle Awards.

1 The Isle of the Drammed Award Whisky Waffle

The Isle of the Drammed Award for the best Tasmanian Whisky

Yes, we are a Tasmanian-based whisky blog, so why not include an award to showcase drams made in our fine state? Especially when they are this good! So with no further ado, we are proud to announce that the Isle of the Drammed award goes to:

Heartwood: The Good Convict

2015 Heartwood The Good Convict whisky waffle

We don’t often see eye-to-eye with Jim Murray. But in the case of this cask-strength monster from the genius independent bottler Tim Duckett, both the Wafflers and the Whisky Bible writer are unanimous in our praise. I mean, what’s not to like about a 15 year old Sullivans Cove French-oak port barrel matured whisky at a humble 71.3%? It is stunning.

2 The Tartan Slipper Award Whisky Waffle

The Tartan Slipper Award for the best Scottish Whisky

Scotland is the spiritual home of whisky (see what I did there?). So it seems only fair to dedicate an award to it. Plus, then no cheeky English distilleries can take it away from them! The 2015 Tartan Slipper Award goes to:

Balvenie 21 Year Old Port Wood

2015 Balvenie 21 Port Wood whisky waffle

We make no bones here at Whisky Waffle Central that we love all things Balvenie, but they’ve really outdone themselves with the 21 Year Old Port Wood. Smooth, sensual and with a refined complexity that hits all the right buttons, this is definitely no every day drinker (unless you’re rich that is. Slosh down whatever takes your fancy m’lord.), but a perfect dram for celebrating that special occasion with the ones you love.

3 The Pocket Pleaser Award Whisky Waffle

The Pocket Pleaser Award The perfect pick for the parched penny pincher

Our bank accounts know all too well how expensive buying bottles of whisky can be. This award celebrates the bottles which we turn to time and time again because – well – we can afford to. It is not the best tasting whisky in the world. But likewise it is far from the worst. This year, The Pocket Pleaser Award goes to:

Glen Moray 12 Year Old

2015 Glen Moray 12YO whisky waffle

“Dear Whisky Waffle, I want to impress my friends by drinking single malts, but I am a poor uni student with only a blend budget to spare. What can I do?” Never fear, we are here to help. Meet your new best friend, the Glen Moray 12 Year Old, as far as we can tell the cheapest single malt Scotch going around. For less than the price of a bottle of JW Black Label you can have a bottle of bonafide Scottish single malt. Full of honey, butterscotch and gentle spices, it’s pleasant and easy to drink, perfect for the Scotch novice and budget-conscious drammer alike.

4 The Weirdsky Award Whisky Waffle

The Weirdsky Award for the most WTF whisky

The Weirdsky Award celebrates, unsurprisingly, weird whisky. The more bizarre the better. Trust us; we are always on the lookout for some unusual drams. But in 2015 the one that took the cake was:

New World Projects Ginger Beer Cask

2015 New World Projects Ginger Beer Cask whisky waffle

What on earth would whisky taste like if matured in ginger beer barrels? This was the question that we asked ourselves when purchasing this New World Projects creation on a whim. The answer, it transpires, was simple: ginger-whisky (gisky?). It is unlike anything we’ve ever tried, and we love it! We take our metaphorical hats off to the makers of Starward for their mad-scientist-like experimentation!

5 The Bill Lark Award Whisky Waffle

The Bill Lark Award for service to the Tasmanian whisky industry

Named after the godfather of Tasmanian whisky, The Bill Lark Award is not presented to a bottle but instead to a person who has worked tirelessly to make the whisky scene here in Tassie as special as it currently is. It gives us great pleasure to announce the 2015 winner of The Bill Lark Award is:

Peter Bignell

2015 Pete Bignell whisky waffle

“Renaissance man” seems to be the phrase that gets bandied about when talking about Peter Bignell, founder of Belgrove Distillery, but it’s well suited. A seriously talented individual, Pete has a true knack for innovation. “Hmm… who wants to make boring old barley based whisky, why not make it using rye? Or oats? May as well just grow it myself too, and dry it in this old tumble dryer I found. But instead of using electricity from the mains, I’ll power it using biodiesel that I’ll make myself out of cooking oil from the local takeaway shop. Should I build the stills myself too? Yeah, why not, and I can power them using the biodiesel. Coopering my own barrels, that doesn’t sound too hard, give it a crack eh? Simple. And just to keep things interesting, in my spare time I’ll be a world class sand sculptor.”

To be honest, Pete doesn’t just win the Bill Lark Award for the excellent whiskies he makes, his contribution to the Tasmanian industry or his stellar environmentally responsible ethos, but for just being a sterling example of a human being who we can all look up to. Good on ya mate!

6 The Golden Dram Whisky Waffle

The Golden Dram for the best dram whisky in the world

I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that we tasted a heck of a lot of whiskies in 2015. So choosing one that stands out as the best would surely be a nigh-on impossible task. Not so. There was little doubt in our minds as we sampled this dram that we had found the 2015 Golden Dram. Drum roll please. The winner of the Golden Dram in 2015 is:

Bruichladdich Aramone Cask 9 Year Old Micro-Provenance Series

2015 Bruichladdich Aramone whisky waffle

I (Ted) would like to start by quoting myself from the day we tried this epic dram: “This is one of the best things I have ever put in and around the vicinity of my face!” You just know instinctively when you meet one of those rare drams that make the stars align in the heavens. When sampling it we described it as a nose-masseuse, as wine-maturation as it should be done, and with an once-tried-never-forgotten finish – thanks in no small part to the 57% bottling strength. All credit to Bruichladdich for crafting such a well balanced, interesting and delicious whisky. It certainly made our year. Find a bottle (if you can track down one of the 500 that was made) and try it. Your face will thank you.

Honourable Mention: We couldn’t fit it into the awards but we have loved the Aussie port-monster that is the New World Projects Lui’s Bar release. Expect a review in 2016!

Dishonourable Mention: To keep things fair we included a dishonourable mention for a dram that deeply disappointed us throughout the year. And this year, unquestionably it was the Glenlivet Founders Reserve. Glenlivet – what were you thinking??? #SaveThe12

What did you think of our awards? Some good picks? Or are we totally full of it? And to what would you have awarded the Golden Dram? Let us know in the comments – it’s always a fun discussion!

2015 outtake 2 whisky waffle

 

Distilled Not Diluted: a rebuttal from a cynical Scotsman

This article is a response to our article: A Brave New World

Posted by: The Cynical Scot

Cynical Scotsman

So Ted. The big boys are coming to town are they? The fathers of Scotch are looking at the colonials and are coming over to gobble us up?

Come off it!  ‘Big Industry’, ‘sharks circling’, ‘crusty entrenched old world?’ Diageo buying into Starward? A chance to get some big bucks into the Australian whisky industry? You do know that Diageo owns far more distilleries than they care to slap a name on the front of. They have done a very clever job of maintaining the branding and character of individual distilleries as the industry recovered in the ’80s and ’90s. They have reopened distilleries that had been moth-balled after not having a legitimate business case.

Saying Scotch is ‘weighed down by centuries of tradition’ misses not only the importance of the tradition, but also the dynamic changes that have taken the industry to what it is today. This has also created quality recognisable products (have a look in every duty free in every international airport in the world). Whisky is something that if you put a cheap and an expensive dram into plain bottles and labelled them both ‘whisky’ it would be difficult for the layman to differentiate between them. Selling of whisky involves more than just touting a nice tasting beverage. It is the selling of an image, a lifestyle, a legend and sometimes a dream. I don’t buy Diageo whisky, I buy Talisker, Caol Ila, Lagavulin and when I have to, Johnnie Walker.  http://www.diageo.com/en-row/ourbrands/categories/spirits/Pages/Whiskey.aspx

So it seems Australia is selling out. Diageo have bought in, and as a minority shareholder in a single distillery at that. So what?….  What’s in it for them and what’s in it for Starward?

Well, for Diageo they can dip their foot in the water and get a first hand look at the Australian business environment. They can get a taste for a new market and they have a fresh brand to expand and work with.

For the distiller they have the knowhow of a company that has many very successful whisky brands under its belt and certainly knows how to flog the stuff. Having a big producer on board will probably make it easier for them to weather ups and downs in demand. Not only that, an individual distiller with higher production could also better standardize their product. Don’t get me started on ‘vintaged’ releases.

It’s one distillery. It’s a minority share. I don’t think Diageo is going to weaken the idea of Australian whisky, but they may change it in time. They may produce an affordable Australian brand. No more expensive bottles you may ask? Not at all. You’ll still see 500ml bottles priced at over $150. What you will have is diversification into the wider market. Imagine being able to taste something from Bothwell in Tasmania and say ‘Yup, that’s definitely Nant. That’s how it tastes’, and it only costs $85 (or whatever). Well, then you could buy a bottle for a friend. Two years after you tasted the stuff you’d still know what they were getting!

This would be a move in the opposite direction from the Scottish market, which traditionally seems to have existed in the mass-produced signature single malt or blend. More recently there has been a trend for creating a broader high-end range and raiding the history books for thought provoking names (I’m thinking of Highland Park in particular here: http://highlandpark.co.uk/taste/). But that’s how whisky works isn’t it? A single recognisable product becomes the poster boy for the new entrant and the budget conscious enthusiast. Then you have a few fancy, expensive types that allow the distiller to show off the finer points of their art and the consumer to have something extravagant to crack open when Grandpa has his 80th. No bad thing.

But where do you want the growth within the sector to come from? Do you want the Australian industry to grow from the inside as demand rises and production increases to meet it? Or do you want a big boy from out of town to buy it all up and franchise the lot? I would say that one aspect that sets Australian whisky apart is the fact it is a small craft industry. You sell out from that you’re like an IT Startup selling out to Google. Sure you’ve made your money, but did you really care about your product or was it just a means to an end?

So many questions. Fortunately, the Australian distilleries I know of don’t seem to be like this. They’ve been founded by distillers who have often made their money elsewhere and are using that to fund a business in something that matters to them – whisky. And good whisky at that.

So hello Diageo. Welcome to Australia, there’s work to be done but let Australian whisky speak for itself and find its own formula. It already has its own character. I’d hate to think that Australian whisky just became another branch of the Scotch map – Speyside, Lowlands, Highlands, Islay and Australia. If it ever gets to that I’ll find an island somewhere that Diageo hasn’t heard of and start growing some barley. Maybe Bill Lark will already be there.

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.

New World visit 5

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.