Despite the burgeoning whisky scene in Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand there just aren’t that many bottles here on the shelves in the US. The whiskies that do make it here from entirely the other side of the globe are marked up so high they can’t realistically compete with whiskies made closer to home, or at industrial scale from established brands. The whisky scene Down Under is still very much a craft affair. Imagine then my surprise at finding a readily available, regularly stocked Australian single malt for less than $50! While I got my bottle from my Flaviar Subscription, I’ve since seen it on the shelf at the local Total Wine.
Starward is a small upstart Melbourne distillery with a single pair of copper pot stills. They source all of the ingredients for their whisky from local Australian products (“within a day’s drive”), ferment the local malted barley with brewer’s yeast and then double-distill and age it on-site. Starward takes advantage of the availability of local Australian red wine casks (still wet with cabernet, pinot noir, and shiraz), steams them instead of heavily re-charring them to avoid disturbing that wine, and then full-term ages the whisky amid Melbourne’s unique “four seasons in a day” climate. This rapid heating and cooling achieves bottle quality within 2 to 3 years. This is similar to how distilleries in India and Taiwan are able to rapidly produce whisky that compares to Scotland’s 10- and 12-year-old products.
The marketing materials confusingly refer to this as “elementally matured”, which sounds kind of made-up to me. The resulting whisky is bottled at 41% ABV (weird) and retails in my neck of the woods for a pretty reasonable $50 – $60. I’ve purchased younger, rougher whisky made within my own state for that much. Nova is bottled without chill-filtration or added coloring. With all the red wine in the barrels they’re using, there’s no need for adding color.
Nose: Resin and balsamico, which quickly resolve into red grape and pomegranate. The malt is present, but in the background: providing a floor of malty sweetness and a mild nutty grain note. Pleasant and aromatic. A rest in the glass adds more sweetness, and a layer of cake frosting.
Palate: Thin, and very tannic body. Instantly mouth-drying. The tongue burn is negligible, almost nonexistent. A reprise of the aroma notes – red berries, port wine, and balsamic vinegar with a vague malt/grain backdrop.
Finish: Of medium length. A surprising dark chocolate note appears, which is downright delectable next to all that port and balsamic. The finish is very tannic, very mouth-drying. It doesn’t evolve much, but with that lovely chocolate note it doesn’t need to.
With Water: Now that chocolate is in my head, it’s all I can smell. The water might have revealed it, or my brain did. The water might be picking out a few extra fruit notes: kiwi fruit, coconut water. I suggest trying this without water and then with just a few drops to see how it changes for you.
Overall: I’m very happy with this dram. The price is acceptable, considering how far it has to travel to reach shelves near me. The flavors are competent and even exciting in places, and there are no off-flavors. It has a very successful sweet-dry balance, and the red wine barrel components are shockingly well-adapted (which is rare, especially considering the full-term maturation in red wine casks). If you’ve never had whisky from the region, Starward Nova is downright the easiest way to do so, and it’s tasty to boot.