Starward turns 15: this is the story of a gamble that paid off

Crack the Two-Fold , mix up a Black Manhattan and book a spot at the bar because Starward is turning 15! In the world of whisky, it’s no easy feat to get to 15 years, especially when you’re going against the grain – and that’s exactly what Starward founder David Vitale did. He took a gamble. And it paid off. Here, David shares a little about Starward – a distillery that continues to not only be bold but also looks to new horizons.

David is a craft beer fan and foodie from his early days and turned to whisky after realising everything he loved about beer was evident in single malt whiskies. “I came from a big, Melbourne, Italian family, centered around the dining table. I wanted to honour the multicultural melting pot and the bright, broad food and booze scene in Melbourne,” he goes on “I blended all these elements to make my new world whisky – what would become Starward.”


After David released Starward’s first whisky, he knew that Apera barrels were not a sustainable option to take our whisky to the world. So, it was time to explore our options. We could do the ‘done’ thing and import bourbon barrels and make a beautiful, proven high quality whisky, which would have been perfect to showcase our signature spirit we worked so hard to craft. Or we could ‘bet the farm’ and (quite literally) pour all of our spirit into Australian red wine barrels. Ageing whisky in freshly-emptied wine barrels – what could go wrong? Well, anything and everything, actually. It might not mature correctly; the wine could negatively interact with the neutral spirit; the oak could be the wrong flavour profile. Nobody really knew for certain. But you never know until you try – and that’s exactly what David did. “It’s no easy task to get to 15 years. To sell a whisky, you need to have made it years ago,” starts David. “It was a big investment of time, money and resource for something that might not work.” Not only did David’s gamble work, but it was also the birth of a versatile, approachable and food-friendly whisky that he had been searching for.


The Starward office & distillery in Essendon Field 15 years ago.

Whisky extracts maximum flavour and aroma during maturation, so carefully selecting wine barrels that are soaked in flavour and keeping the whisky in there for just the right amount of time leads to some pretty magical things (read: big flavours).

As for the type of wine barrels used, think bold, full-bodied Aussie reds like shiraz and cabernet for our Two-Fold and Nova. “We have arguably some of the best red wine barrels in the world in our ‘backyard’ and with the quality of ingredients and materials available within a day’s drive from Melbourne – it’s a veritable match made in heaven,” explains David.

Exploring the red wine barrels section at the Starward distillery in Port Melbourne

“Taking inspiration from Melbourne’s foodie culture, I really wanted to craft a whisky which would be enjoyed and shared around the dinner table, not one that is hoarded in the cupboard only to be brought out for special occasions,” stars David. “The idea to craft a whisky which is versatile, approachable and smooth was the catalyst for starting Starward and what helped shaped our red wine barrel program, even our grain selection.” This is whisky created with food (and foodies) in mind – and you’d be surprised at just how well Starward and a tasty meal go together.

Getting experimental is what we do best, and while each whisky in our core range showcases the Starward stamp in a different way, it’s our projects range where the distillers really let their creativity run wild. “From brewing our own ginger beer in-house so we can mature our whisky in it, to debating with our distillers how many marshmallow notes is enough when creating Dolce – these moments of experimentation are where some of our next big ideas are brewing.”

Fortis from Starward Whisky with a refreshing cocktail mixed

Fortis is a culmination of years of experience and experimentation both in whisky and wine. “As our fourth addition to the core range, Fortis offers a rich intensity and pure expression of Starward’s signature red wine barrel maturation,” he starts “Released in small batches, each one shows the nuances of the incredible barrels we have access to and shows a consistent Starward robustness – it’s big, robust flavour at its best!” 

You’ll just have to wait and see – but if it’s anything like the first 15 years, you’re in for a treat. The sky isn’t the limit, the stars are…

Want to celebrate our 15th anniversary with us? We’d love that! To mark the occasion, we’re releasing a limited-edition single malt whisky: Vitalis.