Consistency. It’s a word that might induce shudders in whisky producers and consumers alike.
From the producers’ perspective – especially those owned by large conglomerates with worldwide distribution – consistency is a mandate. After all, how would you build a brand if each bottle of whisky varied extremely from one to the next? To achieve consistency, producers fix on the desired flavor profile and then optimize distillation, maturation, and blending to re-create that flavor profile over and over.
The threat to this consistency is the variability that arises from chemical reactions of organic materials taking place gradually – sometimes unpredictably – over long periods of time. Unfortunately, those unpredictable processes also produce desirable aromas and flavors, with some degree of fluctuation between individual casks. Part of this individual character needs to be subsumed into the whole; it’s a sacrifice on the altar of consistency.
From the consumer’s perspective, consistency can cut both ways. We want to be able to walk into a shop and select a bottle with a familiar label, assured that we know more or less what the contents inside will taste like. We want whisky to taste the same as it did last go around, or as we remember it tasting years ago, the vicissitudes of time and fortune be damned.
On the other hand, we also bore easily, requiring an annual parade of new expressions and special releases to hold our interest. We expect our favorite distilleries to maintain their form at the same time as we are demanding new tricks, novel concepts, and funky cask finishes for our entertainment. We are the cake havers. We are the cake eaters.
With all that in the back of our minds, let’s turn our attention to Australia’s Starward Distillery. Starward has been on my to-try list since Mark’s introductory piece, with Adam’s favorable review of the 10th Anniversary bottling only enhancing my interest. When I recently saw the Nova expression on the whisky list of a posh Manhattan bar, I jumped at the chance to make my inaugural foray into Australian whisky.
In my imagination, this was the best of both worlds: novel, but tried-and-true. Starward has the seal of approval from two team members whom I very much respect. At the same time, I don’t see Australian whisky every day. And this one from a wine cask! I am entertained!
[aside, breaking the fourth wall] How do you think this movie ends? [smiles] Just checking. [winks]
Onward and upward (starward?) to the review.
This is a single malt Australian whisky, aged 2 years in Australian red wine casks and bottled at 41%. MSRP is $96 Australian dollars, or – as those of us in the northern hemisphere like to call them – “Monopoly money.” In hard currency terms, my local charges US$55 for 750 ml.
Starward Nova – Review
Color: Rusty rose, or rosy rust
On the nose: Sweetly fruity scents of strawberry hard candy, with a floral note of roses and a whiff of chestnuts. Some yeasty and malty aromas. There’s a sharp accent of tannic cask wood, as well as juniper berries and five spice. Intriguing.
In the mouth: Feels weak throughout. There’s a winey-woodiness and a malty note at midpalate before this falls over into a finish punctuated by tart flavors of grape stems and a subtly acrid and bitter taste of crabapples. This fades fast, with a brief nutty note and more stale astringency.
Far from stellar. “No va” translates into Spanish as “doesn’t go,” and unfortunately that’s the case with Nova. It doesn’t go to the stars, or anywhere good; it doesn’t really go much of anywhere at all.
Sure, the nose starts out cheerily enough, with some pleasant fruity flavors imparted by the wine cask. However, malt and wood never find balance in the mouth. At 2 years of age, this is too young to have resolved itself properly, and the mouthfeel underwhelms at the weak 41% strength.
Given the aforementioned plaudits for Starward from my colleagues, I might now confidently write Mark and Adam off as tasteless cretins and resolve never to drink another Australian whisky.
That’s the thing about consistency, though, or rather the thing about inconsistency. There are very few distilleries, particularly craft distilleries, that I’d swear off due to a single poor dram. Starward will sort it out, and I’ll bet that I will like the next Starward expression more than this one.
To hell with consistency! Per aspera ad astra!
Photograph kindly provided by Starward.