Friday 17 May 2024

Starward Bourbon Cask #1 and #2 [Tasted #661-662]

Earlier this week Starward released their second bourbon cask release, officially dubbed, the Starward Bourbon Cask #2. This second release follows the first Bourbon Cask which was released in mid 2018 and only saw an outturn of around 1,200 bottles. For this second bourbon cask release, Starward fans alike can join Starward’s ballot system to secure an allocation. It's not known how many bottles there are in the outturn.

I was fortunate enough to join David Vitale, Starward Founder and Charlie Dyer, Starward Blender this week to sample the Bourbon Cask #2. In fact, the tasting also featured the first bourbon cask release, Starward Nova (their OG red wine cask release) as well as a sample of their wash and new make spirit to give people a sense of evolution of the liquid. It was fascinating to contrast the Bourbon Cask #2 with Bourbon Cask #1, side by side, and while they share the same ABV, they are both distinctly unique. You’ll find my tasting notes on both down the bottom but I thought it would be good to recap a bit of Starward’s history.

Time for Whisky has always been a friend of Starward, dating all the way back to early 2013 when David met Martin in Sydney while David was in Sydney to introduce the “New World Whisky Distillery;” was then renamed Starward. 2013 was also the year Starward’s first whisky was released, Solera, matured in Australian ex-Apera casks and the initial release embodied David’s vision of creating a distinct, tasty yet uniquely Australian whisky. 

Since then Starward has gone strength to strength, having attracted funding from Diego in 2015, followed by the relocation of their distillery from the old Essendon Fields to Port Melbourne in 2016, expanded their core range to include Two Fold Double Grain whisky (dubbed the everyday whisky) in 2019 and receiving numerous gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, underscoring the success of their approach and the quality of their products. Over the years, Starward’s spirit has also evolved, having begun with a somewhat estery profile due to  the small-scale distillation and over time, improvements in their brewing, fermentation, and distillation have led to a more balanced spirit.

Despite their growth, Starward have very much retained their unique fruit notes, in particular, the banana note. In fact, this distinct fruit profile was what David proudly attribute to what makes Starward unique, The fruity profile, in particular the banana note has been a hallmark of Starward whisky, which David has committed to retain while enhancing balance. David’s ethos has always been on how to best produce a distinctly Australian whisky that reflects the local climate, ingredients, and culture. 

Many of Starward’s releases since have been inspired by the vibrant culture and the regional influences. Starward has always had a focus on using local ingredients, including Australian malted barley and locally sourced wine barrels. In addition, Melbourne's 'four seasons in a day' climate has been said to influence the Starward whisky aging process. Allowing for faster maturation compared to traditional regions and David has termed the maturation years as the “Melbourne years”

Since the beginning, Starward's signature play was with the use of red wine barrels for aging, which added unique fruit and oak characteristics to their whisky. The use of red wine barrels has been a significant factor in creating a unique flavour profile, contributing to Starward's distinctive character.

So then, what's the fuss with the bourbon cask release?

The first Starward Bourbon Cask release, known as Starward Bourbon Cask 1, was released in mid 2018 with an outturn of 1,200 bottles. Bourbon Cask #1 was Starward's experimentation with different types of barrels to create unique whisky expressions. This release marked their venture into using ex-bourbon barrels for aging their whisky, differing from their usual practice of using red wine barrels. In fact, their first foray into bourbon cask got them to work on the second bourbon cask, almost immediately after.

The use of ex-Wild Turkey and ex-Maker Mark's bourbon casks imparted distinct flavours to the whisky, adding vanilla, caramel, and subtle spice notes. This contrasted with the fruit-forward profile typically associated with their red wine barrel-aged expressions. The whiskey retained the characteristic balance of spirit, oak, and fruit that Starward is known for, but with the added complexity from the bourbon cask influence. Overall, the first Starward Bourbon Cask release was a significant milestone for the distillery, and as such paved the way for this subsequent significant milestone for Starward, their second Bourbon Cask release.

Starward Bourbon Cask #2 has been described as an inverse to their highly awarded and signature red wine barrel maturation style. With a 52% ABV, one might think both bourbon cask releases are identical but the decision on the ABV was made to showcase the whisky as what the Blender has intended to showcase. Starward's second Bourbon Cask release sees their malt fully matured in bourbon barrels for five 'Melbourne years'. Similar to Bourbon Cask #1, Bourbon Cask #2 also saw the use of ex-Wild Turkey and ex-Maker's Mark bourbon barrels.

As Charlie Dyer, Starward Blender noted, ‘there’s nothing to hide behind with bourbon barrels’ and these casks provided the perfect, neutral canvas to let the Starward new make spirit shine. Expect all those deliciously tropical fruit notes from the fermentation process to shine through. 

It took Starward nine years to release their first Bourbon Cask in 2018, and another six years to release Bourbon Cask #2…. who knows if there will be another.

Starward Bourbon Cask #1 (52% ABV, Port Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, A$199)

The inaugural bourbon cask release has its own complexity.

Nose: The nose opens with a rich, inviting note of vanilla, followed by a more concentrated vanilla essence that adds depth and sweetness. A comforting note of cereal emerges, reminiscent of freshly milled grains. Juicy berries add a burst of fruity freshness, while the honeyed sweetness of Weet-Bix cereal blends in. A cool, refreshing hint of peppermint provides a crisp, clean finish to the nose profile.

Palate: The initial palate reveals subtle yet creamy vanilla notes, setting a smooth foundation. This is quickly joined by the tart, vibrant flavor of raspberries, which adds a lively contrast. A hint of Starward's banana note is followed by honey which introduces a tropical sweetness, complemented by pineapple notes that bring a bright, citrusy touch. Rich molasses adds a deep, caramel-like sweetness.

Finish: The finish is relatively short but leaves a lasting impression of sweet berries. The prominent tannin creates a dry, lingering sensation.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100 (Hendy)

Starward Bourbon Cask #2 (52% ABV, Port Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, A$169)

So what was my impression of their second bourbon cask, in summary, delicious, a lot richer, flavourful and more vibrant, when compared side by side with their first bourbon cask release.

Nose: A delightful medley of aromas greets you, starting with the sweet, nutty scent of nougat and the floral, delicate notes of rosewater. Vanilla essence provides a creamy undertone, while a fresh burst of peppermint adds a cooling sensation. The herbaceous hints bring a touch of earthiness, complemented by the tropical scent of coconut shavings. Subtle whispers of raspberries and banana introduce a fruity sweetness, rounded out by the rich, caramelized aroma of grilled pineapple.

Palate: The first sip delivers a vibrant burst of mixed berries, enveloping the palate with their juicy sweetness. This is followed by a zesty Sunburst orange note that adds a refreshing citrusy twist. Black pepper provides a spicy kick, balanced by a cool hint of peppermint. The flavors evolve into a creamy strawberries and vanilla shake, offering a smooth and indulgent experience. A subtle hint of pineapple lingers, adding a final touch of tropical fruitiness.

Finish: The finish is exceptionally long, leaving a lasting impression of ripe berries and smooth vanilla. The tropical essence of coconut shavings adds a delicate, nutty sweetness, while the finish concludes with a satisfying tannin that provides a dry, lingering end, leaving you with a well-rounded, memorable taste experience.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Hendy)

Given the limited edition release, Starward has opened their ballot system for everyone who's wanting to secure a bottle to register on their website. Starward fans alike can register themselves into the ballot which will be open until 2nd June


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