Australian brand Starward has set its sights on becoming one of the top five global world whisky brands.
Davide Vitale founded the Melbourne-based distillery 15 years ago. “I’m kind of glad that I didn’t realise how crazy the idea was when I first started,” he told The Spirits Business. “I think the thing that’s quite interesting looking back is just how audacious the idea was to start a distillery in Australia, with a global perspective, doing something quite unique with red wine barrels.”
Starward’s core portfolio of whiskies is aged in ‘often still wet’ red wine casks sourced from within a day’s drive of the distillery in Melbourne, Victoria.
The brand aims to produce whisky ‘for a curious, food-obsessed generation’, and has won multiple accolades for its spirits, including being named Taste Master in The World Whisky Masters 2022 for its Tawny #2 expression. The winning whisky was praised for having notes of “vanilla cupcake on the nose, smooth and well-balanced, dark fruits and layers of spice.”
Vitale has his eyes set on even greater things in 2023. “We’ve got really big goals for the brand at the moment,” he said. “In Australia we’re a top 20 spirit brand, which is pretty exciting. That’s top 20 of anything, any spirit, and our ambition, certainly in Australia, is to be a top five.”
Yet his ambitions go beyond Australia: “I think it’s possible for us to be a top five new world whisky globally.
“Japanese whiskies clearly have a jump on us in terms of time in market and scale, but there’s no reason why people can’t think of Starward in the same way they do [Japanese whiskies].”
“I think the challenge and opportunity for us is that as more whiskies come into market, how do we distinguish ourselves amongst that amazing kind of category of new world whiskies coming from England, France, Germany, Taiwan and Israel, and all around the world?”
Vitale confirmed the brand has utilised numerous global channels to gain recognition within the category.
Over the last three years the brand has launched in New Zealand, US, Germany, UK, France, and Japan, as well as cementing a firm footing in the travel retail space, with launches in Los Angeles International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, JFK International Airport and Honolulu International Airport in partnership with DFS Group last month. “Travel retail has been fantastic over the last year for us in terms of borders opening up and travel becoming a bit more prevalent,” he said, “so we’re seeing a lot more interest in in the products from global travel retail.”
Carving a niche
Vitale noted the importance of continuously demonstrating what sets Starward apart, and the significance of showcasing how it makes a connection with drinkers to establish Starward as a contender for global recognition in the sector.
He added: “This unique lens that we have on whisky is anchored in [creating] deliciously accessible whiskies that are aged in red wine barrels, which gives us such an amazing opportunity to play.
“[We want Starward] to be really interesting to single malt whisky drinkers, but equally as important to people that are curious about whisky, but just haven’t found a brand and a whisky that sort of talks to them on their terms. We want to be that brand.”
Looking to the future of the world whisky category, Vitale is confident a revolution of how whisky is consumed is on the horizon, and it’s one that is deep-seated in the Starward ethos of breaking with tradition.
“I think that people are really open minded about exploring whisky and for me, that’s moving it beyond the neat pour into great drinks that are mixed or stirred – something that they can have at the beginning of dinner as opposed to at the end of the dinner by a fireplace,” he said.
“I think that that’s starting to gather momentum, we’re certainly seeing it in Australia, and also in our key markets around the world, such as the US, the UK – a little bit less so in continental Europe, but that’s coming. I’m really optimistic about that.”
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Author: Georgie Collins