The founder of award-winning Melbourne distillery speaks about craft distilling, and letting location inspire product.
Inspired by local winemakers giving the Old World a run for its money, Melburnian David Vitale planned to disrupt the international whisky market with a new Aussie dram. He set up shop in a disused Qantas maintenance shed, and started making whisky in 2013.
I wanted to make a distinctly Australian whisky we could offer the world with pride. We do that by using premium Australian wine barrels to mature our whisky, and Melbourne’s unique ‘four seasons in a day’ climate.
I had a passion for craft beer — drinking it that is — and was captivated by the idea that there could also be a craft whisky industry. Good whiskies start off by making good beer. That was 2004, and I haven’t looked back. I worked at Lark Distillery in Tasmania for three years before returning to Melbourne to start Starward.
Can you describe your process for us?
It’s really simple. Our team of brewers and winemakers take Australia’s best wine barrels and fill them with spirit made with Australia’s best brewing barley. Then, we let Melbourne’s four seasons in a day mature that whisky into Australia’s best single malt whisky. It might be single malt, but it is the furthest thing from a traditional Scotch whisky. No kilts allowed!
Obviously quality ingredients and passion matter, but then I’ve never met a dispassionate distiller using inferior ingredients! For us it comes down to making something that reflects the place it is made. Melbourne is such an important part of our whisky’s DNA. Melburnians have a habit of taking a tradition from another place, reinventing it and making it our own – a fusion of old and new. Just look at our coffee culture, born of Italian migrant culture. We’ve taken that over 30 years and turned coffee into something beyond an after-dinner drink at an Italian restaurant. Our bar and food scene