Private between quotation marks because even though one of them is a real private cask, the other one is a bottling done for ‘The Netherlands’. While that is fairly limited in availability, it’s not really private.
Anyway, Starward Distillery, from Melbourne, Australia. They’ve been around for almost two decades, being founded in 2004. But it’s not until 2020-ish that availability has spread out as much as it has. Currently, it seems to be quite readily available in Europe. Apart from the casks reviewed in this post, there’s already a new bottling for The Netherlands available.
As with many of these newer distilleries, the price is a bit of an issue. These distilleries have yet to prove themselves in terms of quality and after that, consistency, and the more sought-after editions already come in at € 100.
Add to that the fact that whiskies from warmer climates also tend to clock in at very young ages and don’t get older over the years (as in, the Angel’s Share is so high they can’t age for much longer than a couple of years).
So, back to the positive, then.
I’m not sure how Starward has managed to spin it, but they seem to be avoiding the negative connotations of whiskies matured in wine casks. Generally, these are regarded with some disdain from whisky geeks (like me) and avoided. Starward seems to be doing fine. Maybe because they are almost exclusively available from wine casks, and seem to be scoring well!
Apart from that, I find it just cool that a distillery from the other end of the world, from a country that is only now getting a foothold in the world of whisky, is doing so well. So, let’s dive in!
Starward 4, 2016-2021, French Oak and Charred Red Wine Cask 10611, 56.2% – OB for The Netherlands
It smells like a pretty potent combination of oak and red wine. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely whisky, and it actually combines rather well with the wine cask. Rancio and strawberries, some fresh rosemary too. Charcoal, and some treacly sweetness too.
A rather sweet palate, with a bit of bite of black pepper. Quite some oak, red fruits and dark grapes. Rancio, meaty red wine, barbecue charcoal.
The finish is slightly more velvety than the palate, but isn’t without it’s dryness too. Red fruits, charcoal, oak, rancio, rich red wine.
This is a pretty solid dram. Surprisingly so for a whisky that’s just four years old and finished in a wine cask. I’m positively surprised. Not in a way that I’ll be running to the shops for a second bottle, but I’ll gladly drink the rest of mine!
Available in The Netherlands for € 66
Starward 5, 2016-2021, Apera Cask 1855, 59.3% – OB for Whivie.be & The Bonding Dram
A bit of background information on the cask used. Apera is an Australian fortified wine not unlike sherry. Of course, since they’re not from the area surrounding Jerez in Spain, they can’t call it sherry and Australians had to come up with something else. Apera is that something else.
Oak at first, but there’s quickly some sherry-like notes of yeast and dried fruits with a little bitter edge to it. Plums, with a bit of a yeasty funkiness. Chestnuts, somehow, the dusty skins of fresh plums. Walnuts too, as said, there is some funkiness to be had.
It packs quite a punch at almost 60% ABV, but there’s enough flavor to compete. It’s quite hot, peppery, but that’s mostly because of the alcohol. The nutty aromas carry on onto the palate too. Quite dry, but there’s a bit of sweetness too, without being too much. Not unlike dried fruits like plums and dates.
On the finish the sweetness is rather diminshed compared to before. It’s full on funky sherry notes, with lots of walnuts, cherry stones, almond flour. Quite long.
The guys who picked the cask gave this 90 points. Of course, when it’s one’s own cask that is reviewed, I take such a review with a grain of salt. In this case, they’re not far off compared to my findings. 90 is still a bit much, but it certainly is a good whisky! I’m actually quite intrigued by how Apera would hold up against actual sherry, but that’s for another time.
The whisky is quite complex and packs a punch. However, it’s not overpowered by the alcohol and brings a lot of flavors. This is even more true if you consider that this is only five years old!
Pricing in the United States for Starward is quite reasonable, especially in comparison to other Austrralian releases which were in 350ml bottles and priced like they were full sized. Starward’s whisk(e)y is pretty good too.
It’s not unreasonable here either. It’s just that it is more expensive than any established distillery.
Having said that, since they’re offering solid quality, shelling out a bit more is acceptable. And it’s still more affordable than quite some other new distilleries…