Published on May 21st, 2019 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
Starward Whisky’s David Vitale On Launching In The U.S., Future Plans For Starward & More
Earlier this month Australian whisky brand Starward officially launched within the United States, introducing Americans to a distinct new style of whisky, as utilizing the unique climate, terroir and raw materials of Australia. The first expression available in the States from Starward is Starward Nova, an Australian single malt whisky that has been matured in Australian red wine barrels.
The Starward Nova is a unique whisky which draws influence from the vibrancy of “big red” wines from southeastern Australia. The Starward distillery team sources barrels from local wineries that previously held Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. This convenient proximity to those wineries allows the team to maximize the flavor of the wine permeated into the oak, lending a vibrant red ochre color to the final liquid. The full maturation in red wine barrels creates a light and fruity whisky with a long and spicy finish, similar to some of the country’s award-winning wines.
Since its Australian debut in 2016, Nova has received numerous accolades including two gold medals at the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competition for both the “World’s Best Craft Distilled Whisky” and the “Best Australian Single Malt Whisky.” Starward was also recently named “Best Australian Whisky Innovator” from Icons Of Whisky, which is in addition to being crowned “Best Australian Single Malt” by the World Whiskies Awards on consecutive years in 2016 and 2017.
David Vitale founded the distillery in 2007 in his hometown of Melbourne. After working as business manager of a prominent Tasmanian distillery for several years, Vitale wanted to make an accessible whisky that was representative of Melbourne’s character. His passion for food, wine and beer led to Starward’s original purpose of being an easy drinking whisky designed to pair well with food.
I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with David Vitale about the past, present and future of Starward Whisky. More on all things Starward and Vitale can be found online at www.starward.com.au.
How did you wind up in the spirits industry? Were you ever a bartender?
David Vitale: No, I’m a frustrated micro-brewer. I had a passion for brewing way more homebrew than I could drink on my own and wanted to set up an organic microbrewery on the island of Tasmania in Australia. I quickly realized that good beer doesn’t travel that well, and with that realized the common thread that great craft beers with craft whiskies and soon discovered the world of whisky which completely blew my mind with the diversity and complexity of flavors.
What is a typical day at the office for you like?
David Vitale: Well, it has changed since moving to Seattle as I am employee #1 of our U.S. operations here. My true office is the progressive restaurants and bars we visit that support our efforts to showcase what new world whiskey can be. My time is equally split between working with our U.S. trade partners, our Australian brand team and our growing team of amazing US ambassadors that help spread the Starward word.
What is the best part of what you do for a living?
David Vitale: 15 years ago I had an ambition to take a different — more modern — style of whisky to the world, and here I am an Aussie in America living that dream. There are parts of my day that are relatively routine and focused on business stuff, but nothing gives me greater pleasure than getting feedback from our drinkers about how much they love our whisky and what we are doing to change the landscape of new world whisky.
Do you have a favorite variety or offering from your brand?
David Vitale: We wouldn’t be here today without having taken a chance on maturing whisky entirely in Red Wine barrels, the result being Starward Nova. It’s the one that gets me out of bed — not literally — and excited to tell our story.
What is coming up for your brand in 2019?
David Vitale: Well, we have our hands full in the U.S. launching in various markets and we plan to bring a new product to the US in July/August called Two-Fold. It’s a double grain whisky — both wheat and malted barley entirely matured in Red Wine barrels. It’s delicious and the wheat characteristics really make our red-wine barrels sing.
What is your drink of choice?
David Vitale: A perfect Manhattan — it’s my evening ritual — or a Boulevardier made with Starward Nova. It is the perfect whisky for any cocktail that has vermouth in it, given the red wine characters.
When not busy with work, how do you like to spend your free time?
David Vitale: My wife and I have three kids and I travel a lot, so I spend my time trying to be a half-decent husband and dad. They’re the perfect solution to keeping me grounded by frequently reminding me how unimportant I am. Were getting a dog soon so I fear my rankings will continue to drop…
As a music-related publication, I must ask: What was the last concert you attended for fun?
David Vitale: The Killers in Melbourne. I took our then-11-year-old son. It was his first concert and we were right up-front so it was awesome.
Finally, David, any last words for the kids?
David Vitale: Be generous, dream big and keep putting one foot in front of the other — the universe has a way of returning in multiples the generosity and passion.