Melbourne craft distillery Starward Whisky rises to top of world

Austrade

The most awarded distillery of 2022 is not in Scotland, Ireland or the US. It’s right here in Australia. Melbourne, to be exact. Starward Whisky took the title of Most Awarded Distillery of the Year at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition after winning 12 double gold and 3 gold medals. It’s the first Australian distillery to take the top honour in the event’s 22-year history, beating 5,000 competitors.

The accolades have turned even more attention on Starward’s unique whiskies. Made from high-quality local ingredients and aged in red wine barrels or ginger beer casks, the result is a lighter, fruitier whisky you can mix into cocktails, drink at the dinner table or take to the BBQ.

And the world loves it. Starward exports to 14 countries, with the US accounting for 50% of its total exports. As befits a whisky crafted to drink with food, Starward is the Michelin Guide’s official whisky partner and is available at top restaurants worldwide.

‘Our vision was to create a distinctly Australian whisky to offer the world with pride,’ says Starward’s founder David Vitale. ‘We’re glad it’s now known that Australia is punching well above its weight when it comes to whisky.’

Creating a whisky for the dinner table

Vitale grew up in an Italian family where ‘food was always at the heart of everything we did’. He wanted to bring a different approach to whisky making and drinking.

‘I wanted to make whiskies that are more accessible, versatile and approachable,’ he says. ‘We’ve crafted our whiskies to be the most food-friendly whisky you’ll ever taste.’

Starward sources high-quality ingredients from growers, farmers and maltsters only an hour away from its Port Melbourne distillery. The whisky is aged for 3 years in wine barrels from Yarra Valley producers. Its Ginger Beer Cask #7 whisky is finished in barrels that once held its house-made ginger beer.

‘We have a very different maturation profile for our whiskies,’ says Vitale. ‘Ageing our whisky in wine barrels soaked in bold, full-bodied Aussie reds like shiraz and cabernet creates a distinctive flavour profile. It’s fresher, brighter, juicier and fruiter than traditional whiskies.’

Melbourne’s tempestuous weather also plays a crucial role. The city’s fluctuating temperatures mean the whisky interacts with the barrel at a much more rapid rate than it would in colder climates. The drier temperature also increases the whisky’s alcohol by volume (ABV) instead of decreasing it.

Finding a home among US whisky drinkers

Starward’s first international order was to the UK in 2015. ‘We figured if we could be successful in the UK, we could take our whisky anywhere around the world,’ says Vitale.

In addition to the UK, Starward exports to the US, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, the UAE and 9 European countries.

The US is Starward’s number one market, accounting for almost 50% of exports. The pandemic threatened Starward’s US business, but the company was quick to pivot.

‘We initially focused on on-premises accounts when we first got into the US,’ says Vitale. ‘When COVID-19 changed the game, we adapted to off-premises accounts and found like-minded digital partners.

‘We’ve always had a strong focus on food, so restaurant partners have been a great way for us to bring Starward to life. We are also the official whisky partner of the Michelin Guide.’

Starward draws on Melbourne’s famed food and wine culture to market its whisky.

‘Starward is proudly Melbourne, from the intensely reactive climate to the quintessential Melbourne approach to drinking and dining,’ says Vitale. ‘We are broad and eclectic with an option for everyone. Like Melbourne, our whiskies have no airs and graces but are great with food.’

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How Austrade helped

Starward has only been working with Austrade for a short time but has found the agency’s connections to be influential. It has also found great insights from its market reports.

‘Austrade offers our business greater reach and regional experience, especially in markets that are new to us,’ says Vitale. ‘We are continuing to unlock new opportunities as we work with Austrade, including success in connections with new markets, connecting with likeminded brands and getting media engagement.’

Winning the Most Awarded Distillery of the Year has heightened interest in Starward worldwide.

‘We have our hands full at the moment supporting the markets we are in,’ says Vitale. ‘We’re excited to talk to as many curious whisky drinkers as we can around the world.’

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