Saturday, 26 December 2015

Starward / New World Whisky Distillery Tasting in Hong Kong (Tasted #234 - 238)

It's no secret here that we're big fans of Starward Whisky, from Melbourne's New World Whisky Distillery. Since that first time we sat down with then CEO and Founder David Vitale, and tried a sample soon after, we knew this was an exciting distillery - definitely one to watch.

Over the past few years we've become friends with David, catching up in various cities when travel plans aligned, and attending the various Oak Barrel tastings he's hosted in Sydney (first myself attending, now Hendy). So when David reached out recently to let me know he was coming to Hong Kong, and to ask if I was interested in arranging a small tasting for Hong Kong whisky folk, the answer was obviously going to be yes!

David was visiting Hong Kong for the HK Wine & Spirits Fair, and was kind enough to make time on a Friday night to share a few of his recent releases with a small group of friends and fellow whisky lovers.

The brilliant Tiffany's New York Whisky Bar were also kind enough to provide their venue and arrange an impeccable tasting setup - Glencairns, tasting mats, crystal water jugs, pipettes etc... all at quite short notice (thanks guys!) for what, it transpired, was Starward's first ever international tasting! Have to say I felt quite honoured to have arranged the first international tasting for what I'm positive will be a well-known international brand in a few years!

Up for tasting was a mixture of Starward's core lineup and a few of their "New World Projects" limited releases. Specifically, we tried:

  • Starward Single Malt Australian whisky New Make Spirit
  • Starward Single Malt Australian whisky (Solera)
  • Starward Wine Cask Edition Single Malt Australian whisky
  • New World Projects Port Double Cask Release #1
  • New World Projects Starward Limited Edition for Vintage Cellars Release #1
  • New World Projects "Project X" 3yo white whisky
  • New World Projects Small Batch Seasonal Gin - Korenwijn

The night was relaxed and casual (reflecting the Starward style), with the first hour or so seeing everyone standing around, chatting, having a beer or wine, and hearing some of David's stories. Eventually though it was time to take our seats, and listen to the story of Starward.

David introduced us to his whisky by explaining that he wanted to do something different, something that hadn't been done before. Not just another Sullivan's Cove, if you will. David's goal was to "do for Australian whisky what Australian wine did previously" - i.e. put it on the world stage. 

Attendees were a mix of whisky fans and industry people (who also happened to be hardcore whisky fans) and David managed to pitch the content at just the right level - technical enough without delving too far into the depths of true whisky geekdom. David discussed the barrel regime (re-coopered 50, 100 and 200L casks, most of Australian Apera heritage), their recent 5,000L solera vat acquisition (used to provide consistency to the core single malt product) and the Australian laws surrounding whisky production, which includes the somewhat hilarious mandate that, as well as being at least 2 years fermented mash aged in wood, the product must also "taste like whisky".

One product that isn't a whisky, but was on tasting for us, was the new "Small Batch Seasonal Gin - Korenwijn", which David explained as an unaged, triple-distilled malted spirit, not dissimilar to Genever. Whilst I didn't take detailed tasting notes, it was a great gin, and made a fantastic Negroni when I made one at home a few days later.

David also provided an interesting insight into the world of spirits excise in Australia (long known as being very unfavourable to distillers), and made the interesting point that a tonne of barley earns the government $400AUD in taxes if sold as barley, but $40,000AUD in taxes if turned into whisky...

After those interesting insights, it was time to delve into the tasting...

Starward Single Malt Australian whisky (Solera) (43% ABV, NAS, Victoria, Australia, $82.99AUD)
Married in a 5,000L solera vat to ensure consistency from batch to batch.
Nose: Stone fruits and cherries. Some dried raisins and a hint of banana. Some vanilla. Some similarities with bourbon.
Palate: Fruity, and very smooth. More stone fruits, and apple especially.
Finish: Medium-length, Bourbon-like sweetness with some vanilla and caramel.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. I enjoyed this when I tried the very first batch (which I scored 90), and this just shows that the whisky has gotten even better since then.

Starward Wine Cask Edition Single Malt Australian whisky (41% ABV, NAS, Victoria, Australia, $80AUD)
Given the distillery's proximity to Barossa, New World are able to get ex-Barossa Shiraz barrels overnight and fill them when still "wet". David describes this as the "complex" sibling to the easier, more light-hearted and laid-back solera single malt.
Nose: Creamy, milk bottle lollies, some caramel and loads of rich red berries - strawberries and blueberries.
Palate: Hugely rich and full-bodied - lots of cherries and strawberries, and some rasbperries, which then shift to this drying, slightly tannic taste. Lots to explore and it's all delicious.
Finish: Medium to long, tannic with big red berries continuing to the end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Different to the solera expression and yet still very much a Starward. Grab a bottle of both - you won't be sorry.

New World Projects Project X 3yo white whisky (42.1% ABV, 3yo, Victoria, Australia,  $80AUD)
A three year old Australian single malt whisky that's clear as day?! Yep. Just don't ask David how and expect an answer (though we have a theory...)
Colour: Clear as day
Nose: Banana and pears, but also some oak!
Palate: Smooth - very confusing at first given it looks like a new make. Some toffee and some bananas.
Finish: Short with toffee notes to the end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100. Not overly complex, but smooth, unique and just very cool. Great in cocktails too.

New World Projects Port Double Cask Release #1 (48.6% ABV, NAS, Victoria, Australia, no longer available)
Nose: Toffee and loads of Banoffee pie.
Palate: Smooth and rounded, with toffee notes but also quite a bit of citrus. Not dissimilar to a good, youthful Scotch from a good Speyside distillery.
Finish: Short and slightly drying, with some red berries.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100.

New World Projects Starward Limited Edition for Vintage Cellars Release #1 (48% ABV, NAS, Victoria, Australia, No longer available but Release #2 is $134.99AUD)
Aged in an ex-Pedro Ximenez (PX) cask - a departure from Starward's more commonly used Australian Apera barrels.
Nose: Similar toffee notes to the Port Double Cask, but with lots of Christmas cake notes too - Brazil nuts and glacé cherries.
Palate: Oh wow, this is a whisky you can sit on. Big rich chewy caramel and soft toffee notes. Lots of fruit. Slightly flinty. Definitely Sherried - raisins, nuts, even some mocha. Delicious.
Finish: Long, sherried and with a slight earthiness.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. Just excellent.

Whilst Starward isn't yet officially available in Hong Kong (well, outside of the collection in my apartment...) David plans to return next year, and we hope it won't be long before we see it being officially distributed here.

TimeforWhisky would like to thank David for giving up his time and whisky on a Friday night, and for giving Hong Kong a taste of Starward - hopefully a taste of things to come!


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