“We win awards with whisky drunk neat. That’s very traditional,” says Vitale. “The drinks that get me most excited is when people think of Starward as an ingredient.”
“If I can fall in love with whisky, anyone can. We just need to make it available on their terms.”
The other part of the distillery’s ‘secret sauce’ is ironically something that is the bane of many Melburnians’ existence: the local weather. Vitale quotes Scottish comedian Billy Connolly: “There are two seasons in Scotland: June and Winter”.
Melbourne, on the other hand, is renowned for its four seasons in a day. “Whereas often that would be seen as a disadvantage, I love it.”
While Scotland’s whisky barrels are resting for the better part of the year, the barrels in Starward’s Port Melbourne distillery are constantly expanding in warm temperatures and contracting when it cools. “Within 3-4 Melbourne years, we have amazing whisky.”
To celebrate its 15th birthday, Starward recently released a special edition whisky named Vitalis. The liquor is a nod to the distillery’s earliest beginnings, a range of whiskys aged in red wine barrels from areas all over Australia – the Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley – that Vitale says are now difficult to source.
“It’s basically a kaleidoscope of all the different parcels of whisky that we have in our inventory,” he said.
In line with the brand’s spirit of accessibility, Starward sold Vitalis not by raising prices to match the special edition whisky’s limited supply, but through a ballot process. “That means, regardless of how deep your hip pocket is, you have a chance of getting this whisky.”
So, where to next for the world’s most awarded distillery? Nearly half (40 per cent) of Starward’s sales are overseas in the US and Europe. But the brand still has some ways to go yet, says Vitale, who is reticent to reveal Starward’s revenue or profit figures. The brand is currently ranking in the top 20 spirit brands in Australia, but its ultimate mission, like its name, is to conquer the world, with a particular focus on the US.
“You can’t be global in alcohol, particularly whisky, if you’re not taking on America.”
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