Ahhh, the alure of the single barrel release. I’ll admit to anyone who asks that I’ve never been the biggest supporter of Starward, but I cannot elucidate exactly why.
Starward are kind enough to host the Whisky and Dreams tasting show every year, and if there’s a better whisky show on the Melbourne calendar, please point me in that direction. Additionally, the only bottle – before now – that I’ve owned from Starward has been their 10th anniversary release, which was so good and well priced that I quickly returned for a second bottle before they all disappeared. I’ve had some fun with the ginger beer cask releases that I’ve found in a friend’s collection. To top off the factors working in Starward’s favour, they are a scant 15-minute drive from my front door.
So why my reticence to fully embrace Starward? My reasoning is probably petty, but I land on two factors. Firstly, I just do not share their love of red wine barrels. The Starward website (fairly short on production information in comparison to the micro-details you find over on Archie Rose or even Limeburners) talks up the taste benefits of red wine barrels, but I’ve always thought that their availability was probably the main driver.
Secondly, with Starward being aggressive in the market and appearing to be quite successful, they don’t need my support. When I think of throwing some money the way of an Australian distillery, I choose to support the newer, smaller ventures, such as Flerieu or Blackgate or the quiet achievers, like Hellyers Road or Bakery Hill. It might just come down to me viewing Starward as being a case of style over substance.
Now that I’ve been open about my predispositions, it’s time for one more confession: I am an easy mark when I see an appealing single barrel release. The single barrel versus small batch wars rages on, with me sitting on the sidelines an interested observer. I intellectually understand the skill required in blending together the ideal barrels to create a small batch release. I’ve owned more than my share of Cadenheads (now sadly defunct) small batch releases, which regularly hit a sweet price point with appealing distilleries at cask strength.
For my tastes, I will always prefer the romanticism of taking a chance on discovering a single barrel release that gives insight into what is coming straight out of the casks of a distillery.
So, when I saw a single barrel release of an Australian whisky in a 700 ml (not always a given in Australia) bottle – at a reasonable price – and available at my local bottle shop? I couldn’t turn down the chance to see if I could overrule my misgivings and finally embrace Starward.
This release was purchased from my local Vintage Cellars. Vintage Cellars is a part of the monolithic Coles Myer group of stores. It’s classier than their Liquorland chain, which I find only suitable for purchasing ice packs for the esky at a barbeque. Vintage Cellars puts more of a focus on premium craft beer, a broader wine and spirits selection than Liquorland, which regularly hides alcohol produced on behalf of Coles Myer behind misleading labels as a ploy to lead you into thinking you are purchasing something from a craft brewer/winery (Vintage Cellars may do this as well but it’s nowhere as prevalent).
I purchased this for $165; at the time of writing they are still available here. Not quite as good value as this Starward special release, but certainly better than That Boutique-y Whisky Company slipping these 500ml bottles through at around $200.
I am a little disappointed that this release was initially aged in a red wine cask from the Barossa Valley before being finished in a charred American oak hogshead. For better or worse, I was looking forward to the unfiltered red wine cask experience.
There is a high degree of quality expected when a cask has been chosen as good enough to be released in this form. Let’s see how it measures up.
Starward Single Barrel Australian Whisky – Review
396 bottles were produced from Barrel 8178 at an ABV of 56.0%. Filled July 2016 and bottled April 2021.
Colour: Rust with pink tinges
On the nose: immediately this dram strikes with appealing fruit scents like pineapple and banana, then coconut flakes, strawberry bubble gum and lilac. There are no off notes here though time with the dram doesn’t reveal much else. Eventually reveals dark honey and caramel.
In the mouth: First impressions are that this is a sweeter dram than I am accustomed to and a fair amount of alcohol burn down the throat speaking to the youth of the spirit. Caramel comes immediately to the fore, creaming soda, and grapefruit. I roll this around my mouth and enjoy the creamy texture. Then comes black tea, pine needles and gum leaves. At the end the sweet notes returned in the form of barley sugar sweets.
After finishing my tasting notes, I sit back and enjoy the rest of my dram and am thankful that writing for MALT Review spurred me on to buy this bottle, because it is charming. Credit to the team at Starward who have overcome the relative youth of their spirit to achieve an alchemy of some complex flavours. The finishing in the American oak hogshead must take some credit for the final flavour profile. In store, Vintage Cellars had bottles from a sister cask for the same price at a slightly lower ABV and I’d be interested to try that to see how they compare.
Starward’s core range of official bottlings don’t always works for me, but this release is a significant success. When considering a score, I think of other reviews I have provided and the MALT Review scoring scale, and can’t quite reach an 8. However, the score below is absolutely a recommendation to buy at what is a fair price.
All prices are in Australian dollars