New World Whisky Distillery Tour

There is a sense of timeless serenity upon entering Starward’s New World Whisky Distillery in Victoria. The eye is drawn to 120,000 litres of spirits in casks quietly ageing beside a shiny new bar to one side. To the left, stills and fermenters are where the magic happens.

New World Whisky DistilleryNew World Whisky Distillery

It is late afternoon and David Vitale, CEO of New World Whisky greets us at the bar for the start of our Starward whisky journey.

New World Whisky DistilleryDavid Vitale with Whisky Thief

This is Barrel No 1 from 9th March 2010, he explains as he draws the prized whisky using a spirit thief.

New World Whisky DistilleryBarrel No. 1

This is history at its finest and a privilege to be offered a taste straight from the 200 litre sherry cask barrel. A medley of ripe fruit and oak plays on the nose and bursts of fruit with vanilla, toffee and crème brûlée linger on the palate.

58%ABV. First Starward whisky barrel. Indeed, this is starting at the beginning.

New World Whisky DistilleryDavid Vitale

Established in 2004, New World Whisky Distillery has worked with the premise that whisky doesn’t need time in wood to taste good and Starward has set out to challenge the baseline truth from around the world that age matters.

“We started the distillery with a really clear focus of what Starward meant and what it represents from the drinker’s perspective, approachability, affordable price point and consistent product from batch to batch,” David Vitale explains.

Starward has achieved its success and popularity by producing younger whisky which raises questions about how the spirit reaches a level of maturation so quickly.

According to Vitale, Melbourne is a unique place to make whisky, from cold and windy days that are Scottish in nature to warm sunny days. The heat transfer through the barrels makes a big difference in terms of the maturation and wood policy. By focusing on controlling the barley, the distillation and fermentation processes, it allows for a shorter maturation period.

New World Whisky Distillery Tour

It starts with inputs, how they deal with barley strains, fermentation and distillation. The barley strains are particularly selected to give richness and malty flavour. Brewing barley gives an oily, rich flavour and mouth coating but requires more time in wood to clean up the flavours and react with the environment and temperature to have that reactive maturation. The focus is skewed heavily on controlling the barley, the fermentation and the distillation.

Hybrid yeast is used, a combination of brewing and distilling yeast. The benefit is that one is doing the heavy lifting in the alcohol development while the distilling yeast and the brewing yeast are providing the flavours. As the yeast is about producing flavour this reduces the time needed in the barrel. The fermentation process brings out more of the fruit characteristics.

New World Whisky DistilleryFermentation Tanks

The next key factor is fermentation. Unlike Lark Distillery, Starward have a short fermentation period of 72 hours. Any longer and other flavours from lactobacillus develop which are uncontrolled as they rely on the bacteria on the barley and the environment to create those flavours. To get consistency from batch to batch, they need to remove anything that is not controlled from that process. The result is finding flavour profiles they like and want from the yeast profile that only takes three days to ferment.

The four fermentation tanks have a capacity of 5000 litres which are filled to 3800 litres to produce 420 litres of new make spirit. This represents a production of 150 cases a day, 7 days a week. With an upgrade soon to happen, capacity will soon be increased.

New World Whisky DistilleryStill

The next factor is related to cuts. Starward aim to narrow in on the cuts to produce a spirit that doesn’t need that much time in wood as, for example, a feint-driven spirit from a lowland distillery designed to develop its flavours after ten or twelve years.

“The new make spirit that behaves more like an eau de vie than a new make spirit from Scotland or moonshine out of Kentucky,” Vitale explains.

Scotch whisky distilleries take the cut from 63.5% up to 70% straight from the heart into the barrel while Starward cuts theirs down to 55% ABV. The reasons are twofold, it makes a mellower whisky and every bottle of Starward has more of the barrel in at than say an equivalent whisky at 43%. So the water has had time – two and a half years – to integrate into the barrel, not three weeks from adding the water and into the bottle therefore creating a more integrated product adding that water earlier.

New World Whisky DistilleryStill preparation for upgrade

With a new pot to go on the spirit still and a new still pair being made by Peter Bailey from Tasmania, stillmaker for Lark Distillery, Sullivans Cove and Archie Rose, capacity will be significantly increased.

New World Whisky DistilleryBond Store

There are 120,000 litres resting in mainly apera casks, some wine casks and a small percentage of port casks in sizes of 200, 100 and 50 litres. Most of the 100’s are from Yalumba and Barossa wineries with Shiraz being the most prominent but there are also Chardonnay and some sparkling pinot. The Shiraz and Chardonnay casks are mainly American oak with the wine flavours being integrated during the maturation process.

New World Whisky DistilleryBottling Room  – All done by hand

New World Projects

Delivering consistency of product can have a drawback and to provide the distillery team with challenges the New World Projects was born.

New World Whisky DistilleryCasks and Lounges

New World Projects are experimental whiskies and and began one month after production with an emphasis on wood policy. We’ve seen the likes of the ginger finish, apera finish and wine casks. Experimentation with wood policy happens either pre-filling or post-maturation eg they take a liquid from solera and finish it in ginger beer casks. The spirits certainly challenge what people’s idea of what a whisky is and creates a buzz around it. Another advantage of NWP is that it does not dilute what the brand represents.

With Australian wine makers using different fruit in a different climate, apera casks deliver a very different fruit profile to their Spanish counterparts. They bring out fresh fruit flavours alongside dried fruit. This occurs partly due to the fermentation but also due to its time in barrel.

Experimentation in New Projects has led to a second expression which we reviewed earlier, Starward Wine Cask Edition 1 matured exclusively in Australian red wine barrels.

The New World Whisky Distillery has shown that age does not matter. Much like Kavalan whisky from Taiwan, whiskies can be produced that are both full on flavour and approachable in a short time frame. For those looking at what else can be achieved, New World Projects deliver new flavours through wood policies and maturation. In short, the distillery has succeeded in delivering Australian whisky in Australian wine barrels, not a reinterpretation of Scottish whisky.

New World Whisky Distillery Bar

A new addition to the New World Whisky Distillery is an inviting bar with an impressive design.

New World Whisky DistilleryNew World Whisky Distillery Bar

The bar top has been crafted using staves from a 75 year old 30,000 litre French oak brandy barrel and as such provides a link to the whisky barrels that surround the lounges and tables. The lights are fitted onto the bands of the barrel giving a good indication of its size.

New World Whisky DistilleryNew World Whisky Distillery Bar

The bar is open Friday and Saturday nights and focuses on the spirits produced at the distillery including a seasonal New World Projects Gin. Cocktails are also available at the bar highlighting the spirits produced.

New World Whisky Distillery is located in Essendon Fields in Victoria within close proximity to Tullamarine Airport. Distillery tours operate on Friday and Saturday afternoons for one hour and include two tastings for $10.

With much gratitude to David Vitale and Paul Slater for their time.

For more distilleries, visit the Australian Distillery Directory.

New World Whisky Distillery
181 Larkin Street, Essendon Fields VIC 3041
Phone:(03) 9005 4420

About the author

Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is a drinks writer, author of GROW YOUR OWN COCKTAIL GARDEN, SHRUBS & BOTANICAL SODAS and founder/editor of Gourmantic, Cocktails & Bars and The Gourmantic Garden. She has been writing extensively about spirits, cocktails, bars and cocktail gardening in more recent years. She is a spirits and cocktail competition judge, Icons of Whisky Australia nominee, contributor to Diageo Bar Academy, cocktail developer and is named in Australian Bartender Magazine's Top 100 Most Influential List. Her cocktail garden was featured on ABC TV’s Gardening Australia and has won several awards. She is a contributor to Real World Gardener radio program and is featured in several publications including Pip Magazine, Organic Gardener, Australian Bartender and Breathe (UK). Read the full bio here.