Sunday 10 March 2013

A coffee with David Vitale (CEO and Founder, New World WhiskyDistillery)

Tradition. Heritage. History. These are things we often equate with the whiskies we drink - with many of the distilleries we enjoy being hundreds of years old (many older than Australia itself).

New World Whisky Distillery (aka Victoria Valley Distillery), producers of Starward Whisky do not have such history. Stemming from an idea in 2004, NWWD began operations in 2007 and filled their first barrel at the beginning of 2010. Being such a relatively young distillery, however, has afforded David Vitale (CEO and Founder) and his team the opportunity to do things their way, all with a view to create a whisky that is "just like the country it is made in - youthful, rich and bright".

Although distilling whisky in Melbourne (Starward is distilled just a stone's throw from Essendon Airport) actually dates back  to 1862, as a country we're not known for having a long history of whisky, a fact which has given NWWD the perfect opportunity to create a "modern whisky, unshackled from tradition".

David was in Sydney recently and was kind enough to meet over a coffee (it was 2pm and there was work to be done afterwards, hence no whisky!) at Shirt Bar. As well as generously offering me a 200mL bottling of Starward, David talked me through the company, product, philosophy and plans in extensive detail.

One point I was curious about was climate. We all know Tasmanian whisky is growing in popularity - but Tasmania's weather is much closer to Scotland's than the rest of Australia. How does Victoria fare (and Melbourne especially, known for "four seasons in one day") when it comes to whisky distilling? Interestingly, the Melbourne daily range can be up to 13degC - that's a lot for a cask to deal with! This is unsurprisingly where a lot of Starward's character comes from. By having such huge daily temperature variances, the casks expand and contract much more than they would in a colder climate, and that means more wood contact, and more flavour.

Walking me through the presentation, David skipped over the slide explaining the age of the whisky, and asked that I taste it first. I did later that night, and was incredibly surprised at how smooth and flavoursome the whisky was, considering it's 2.5 years old (the oldest being 2.75yrs). It's clearly youthful, but if I didn't know what it was, I'd never have guessed it was so young. Just goes to show - age isn't everything. Full tasting notes to be added soon.
Starward's flavour profile leans heavily towards the sweet, fruit end of the
spectrum, which plays a large part in its approachability.
I could write an essay on the wealth of information David walked me through (all of which I found fascinating as a big whisky geek), but in the interests of keeping this short and sweet, here are a few other interesting facts David offered:

  • Small batch copper pot stills are used, and the whisky is aged almost exclusively in Apera (aka Australia Sherry) casks from McWilliams - in 50L (25%), 100L (50%) and 200L (25%) varieties.
  • 100L Shiraz casks are being experimented with to further push the Australian angle
  • As distilling isn't a terribly common Australian vocation, David found the necessary skills in brewers (who are also qualified scientists), who he describes as incredibly disciplined and well-placed to produce fine Australian whisky,
  • Annual capacity is 80,000L of pure alcohol, and ~155,000L of finished product (27,500 packaged cases)
  • NWWD currently don't perform any finishing, with the whisky aged in the same (mostly Apera) casks for their whole life. 
  • The whisky is blind-tasted from 5 barrels each day (cut to 20%), with Famous Grouse used as the reference whisky.
  • The whisky is available now both on and off-premise, and retails for $80AUD per bottle (which compares very favourably with the rest of the market, considering the average Australian whisky typically costs in the $120-$150 price bracket).

David and team will be running tastings throughout Australia (including an upcoming Sydney tasting at Button Bar). I can highly recommend going along and trying this fantastic new Australian whisky!

 - Martin.

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