An Unconventional Aussie – Starward Left-Field

Each morning I get up and go through the news feed on my phone.

Given my interests, the algorithm produces a mixture of flight cancellations, whisky, politics and the latest news on Magic The Gathering (big fan). With the slowness of the news though I’ve been seeing articles from a week ago, a month ago, and one popped up recently from September 2020 about ‘Why swanky supermarkets are rare in Australia’.

For my own part, I considered the article kind of… weird and pointless. Australia has always tended to be aimed at value-driven supermarkets. If you want something swanky, you go to an independent shop. The article didn’t seem to touch on that and the quote that stands out the most would be:

“International examples like Whole Foods, Eataly and even now Amazon lead the way.”

Yeah, Bezos has enough money without my grocery allowance going towards him.

The swanky supermarkets of the UK have always reeked of classism to me but there is one upside to this. The supermarkets have a decent selection of whisky.

While it’s mostly Scotch, American and a touch of Irish (or Japanese if you’re fancy), I did get a pleasant surprise when another article told me an Aussie distillery was launching a range in Waitrose. One of my favourite distilleries at that.

This World Whisky Wednesday looks at that range, the Starward Left Field.

You may know Starward from my previous articles gushing over their whisky, most notable the Two-Fold. As (arguably) the most well-known Australian brand internationally, it’s always good to see those from the burn city branching out into different things and I was curious about the whisky so thought ‘why the hell not?’ At £35, it’s a damn sight more affordable than other Australian whiskies.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Who are Starward?

Starward comes from New World distillery in Melbourne, started in 2007 by founder David Vitale who was formerly a homebrewer and mentored by Bill Lark. His aim is to bring distillation back to Melbourne.

The distillery was originally based in Essendon Fields in an old hanger warehouse with a (frankly) outrageous climate shift due to the hot sun and corrugated iron that built the structure. I’ve heard it said in Ireland, Scotland and England that you have four seasons in a day but I’ve always laughed at that. In Victoria, you’ll see a temperature variance of up to 20 degrees through a day, with cold mornings, hot middays, afternoon thunderstorms and heavy rains and then back down again at night. This creates a massive variance in the whiskies and impacts the casks heavily.

After a few years, they would move to a new location in Port Melbourne and, while they don’t see this as huge a temperature variation, they still have a large impact from the climate. Seeing acclaim from their first product, the Apera (Australian sherry) cask, Starward moved onto a huge amount of experimentation, namely with their New World Expressions range which has… well, just about every cask under the sun, released in small batches.

These bottles wind up everywhere, talking to bar tenders and shops around the world you would find different bottles everywhere of all manner of different maturations.

This tiny slice of their history does not do them justice at all (I had a chat with David that you should watch for greater detail). But, when talking about Starward, their history is less important than what they have done for Australian whisky.

Starward were very much the new kid on the block with their new ideas and innovation, and time hasn’t stopped that. Quite frequently you’ll see an article mentioning an interesting maturation or technique and when the name Starward pops up it all makes sense. I’d call them the southern hemispheres equivalent to Mackmyra, but only in the sense that they are both innovators and experimentalists.

It’s their attitude that seems to set them apart from others though, a focus on high quality whisky at affordable prices that the drinker can do whatever they want with. Have it neat, in a mixer, in a cocktail, however you like your whisky. I realise that other brands through the UK, Ireland, Japan and America have this same approach but it feels disingenuous when coming from those companies. Yes, you might have their whisky in a cocktail, as long as you don’t do it near them. Yes, you might have it the way you like it, but you’re gently encouraged to enjoy it the way that they enjoy it.

That’s really what Starward are, a couple of folk in a distillery, making great drinks and allowing you to experiment with it however you like. So, what goes into this Left-Field and what makes it different?

“We all have a special occasion whisky cabinet which is overflowing with options, but the sharing cabinet is curated. We believe we have the opportunity to elbow out some space and create an alternative to the great whiskies from around the world, with an Australian whisky matured in Australian wine barrels.”

  • David Vitale in a prepared statement sent out regarding this whisky.

From the words, it’s clear what Starward are doing here. They aren’t challenging the higher margins with this whisky, this is one that’s meant to be drunk and enjoyed. shared rather than collected. I can get behind that.

As for making an alternative to the great whiskies from around the world, the following mention of Aussie wine barrels seems to be a nice way of saying ‘Christ aren’t you a bit bored of ex-bourbon?’

Anyway, let’s talk the whisky.

Left-Field is a single malt Australian whisky, matured in Australian red wine French oak barrels, some charred before the whisky maturation. Said barrels are from the Barossa and Yarra Valley, holding red wines including Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.

It’s pretty straight forward and simple to be honest. Placing it on the Waitrose shelves through the UK (apparently its available through the EU, I’ve no idea where) means they’ll reach a different type of customer and that price margin isn’t too out of this world.

Anyway, enough talk, let’s jump into this whisky and see what’s what.

Oh, that’s smooth on the nose. It’s vanilla and caramel, red fruits and stone fruits with pronounced apricot and plum, some pipe tobacco. There’s a hint of berry berocca in there as well, that’s a surprise, and then there’s coffee and burnt toast (oh I get it, it’s a breakfast whisky). Then it’s on the road to the first puff of the morning with rich pipe tobacco, leather-y and filled with liquorice. Raisins, truffles and dark chocolate with almonds. It’s thick, but not alcohol thick, the flavours seem…. clustered together. Not stifled, but rather waiting for something to let them loose. Heat is your friend here. After warming the glass, everything spills over the top with a blackberry and plum base.

Ooh, on the palate that heat does wake the dram up. It’s a touch sleepy when fresh but, after some warmth and breathing, it hits raspberry jam and whipped cream, pineapple, banana, mango, rock melon slices that make the base of the whisky and just a hint of honey dew. There’s some watermelon in there and a touch of passionfruit, but the passionfruit is more present on the feel, nice and slightly prickly. Hints of vanilla ice cream with purple grapes, blackcurrants and blackberries as someone pours some cassis over the top. Then there’s liquorice, marshmallows, plum, and silken boiled cherry hard candies, and the slightest touch of Edinburgh Castle Rock. This is an intensely, dangerously smooth whisky, there’s not a hint of alcohol in there.

Finally, the finish is nice and long, with some cherry dried into leathery strips, lovely and chewy, hints of ginger and pepper at the end.

Yeah, this is a really nice whisky. I’ve seen a few of the press releases stating ‘a European palate in mind’ and want to say that Europe is a big place, but it is incredibly nice and easy to the point that I can’t see anyone not liking this whisky. It’s not the best whisky in the world but it is one of the easiest. It’s been said by a few folk that Aussie whisky tends to rely on the casks used for flavour (taking in the flavour of the previous fills as opposed to mature and showcasing the whisky on its own merits), but I would disagree, especially with the Left-Field.

It smells, tastes and feels as though the whisky is working hand in hand with the cask to bring out the best flavours possible.

I’d love to try it with different mixers and in a few cocktails, I’m thinking some ginger ale with this would go great, but that smoothness of the whisky means that I’m getting dangerously low on this bottle.

So would I, will I buy another bottle? Yes.

This is something that I want to try in different ways, but also want to share with people, so cheers David and the team for that you’ve really hit the mark with that ‘sharing’ whisky you spoke about. At £35 it is nice, easy, affordable, better than the competition at that price and genuinely a pleasure to drink. The biggest competition it has really is itself, the Starward Two-Fold is roughly the same price but of a similar level of quality. I think the best thing to do would be to pick up a bottle of both of them, sit down and spend some time discovering which is better.

We’ll need a good tune for that…

Unexpectedly great and suitable anytime, anywhere, with anything.

If you would like to learn more about Starward, click here to discover their story and see their products.

This review is not sponsored or endorsed by any distillery or whisky, Starward, New World Distillery or otherwise, and is entirely the words of the author Somewhiskybloke.

If you enjoyed reading this, why not give me a follow on Twitter at @Somewhiskybloke? There you can stay up to date with what I’m drinking and what news I’m ignoring while trapped in the wonderful whisky bubble.

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