Starward Distillery was established in 2009 in the Qantas Maintenance Hangar at Essendon Airport by David Vitale, and from humble beginnings and in the space of only a decade it’s become the flagship of Australian craft whisky and an Australian whisky icon.
It’s a little-known fact that STARWARD’s founder David Vitale is actually a frustrated beer brewer. His passion for craft beer goes back decades, and it wasn’t until he was working for Lark Distillery in the mid 2000s (yes, every Aussie whisky story links back to Bill Lark ?) that his beer passion expanded to include whisky. David saw strong parallels between craft beer and single malt, especially the passion of people coming together to create something special, not to mention of course that the first half of whisky production is essentially crafting a beer. The Tassie effect was working, whisky overtook beer as his favourite drink and a plan began to form…
With a simple vision to create a uniquely Australian whisky that he could offer the world with pride, David started raising capital in 2007 and got the keys to the Hangar on July 1, 2009. Well aware of the potential of what he was starting, David built the distillery with the future in mind, with production running virtually 24/7 on a pair of 1800/600 litre Knapp Lewer stills and it wasn’t long before he was producing over 1,000 bottles a day.
In a stroke of genius David concluded that a traditional approach to whisky production was only ever going to create a traditional whisky, so instead he hired brewers and winemakers to craft a distinctive Australian spirit that borrows as much from brewing and winemaking as it does traditional methods of distilling. The team’s fresh approach to whiskymaking challenged conventions and norms, the result being interesting whiskies that celebrate innovation and the distillery’s hometown of Melbourne, a city surrounded by some of Australia’s leading wine regions and the microbrewing capital of Australia.
With an abundance of wineries just a short drive away, it seemed obvious to source barrels locally. Not only would the whisky reflect the provenance of the barrels, it would create something unique and distinctly local, perfectly reflected in the distillery’s two highly awarded flagship drams; Solera matured in Apera barrels and Nova matured in red wine casks.
Finally, it’s all about the location… taking advantage of Melbourne’s unique climate, STARWARD is able to mature its whisky at a much faster rate than the damp cold glens of Scotland. This rapid maturation and the use of virtually wet casks resulted in a delicious, ground breaking whisky sold at an unheard of price-point for an Australian craft whisky… and a cult following soon followed.
Of course, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Selling a craft product at mainstream prices is not an easy game, and the purse strings were kept pretty tight for the distillery’s first decade. However, fortune favours the brave and a huge breakthrough came in 2015 when Distill Ventures, an independent global business accelerator that works with craft drinks brands took a stake in STARWARD, giving Vitale the chance to make his dream come true. Beyond supporting investment in the team, plant & equipment, and of course whisky, David refers to DV as his “40 tonne bulldozer” that removes any roadblocks in ensuring STARWARD continues its trajectory to becoming a global whisky icon.
This month we’re absolutely thrilled to be working with this incredible team to bring our Members a truly special chapter of the Starward story. We’re pushing the boundaries of what STARWARD can be with the Charred Red Wine Casks release, it’s been created exclusively for the Club and it’s absolutely cracking.