Being winter there were only a few fellow campers about but the abundant wildlife more than made up for that. We encountered Emu, wondering Wombat, Kangaroo and heard a calling Lyre Bird on our way in. Curious Kookaburra and colourful Crimson Rosella hung around everytime we had the dinner table out for a meal.
The bright sunny day turned into an equally bright – but chilly – starry evening and we celebrated with a bottle of champagne. The next morning it was back to Melbourne for a few days before the long flight home.
This track from up and coming Aussie band Jagwar Ma encapsulates how I felt in this beautiful place. Chillaxed!
We dilly-dallied in the morning – such is the beauty of the Prom. Taking a walk on Squeaky Beach together with a few photos at Whisky Bay.
By the time we entered Melbourne proper it soon became clear that finding the AirBnB in St Kilda and returning the camper to the hire depot would be tight. So tight in fact I had to abandon the vehicle near the closed depot and hightail it back into town for my evening Talk + Taste with Starward Whisky at Pilgrim Bar.
Pilgrim’s friendly staff greeted me like a long lost friend – remembering me from my last visit 3 weeks previously. With a half hour to spare I ordered a light snack together with a glass of Matilda Bay Dogbolter. This beer is a munich style dark lager which gives a lovely soft burnt taste to the lager and is as close as you can get to the peat influence in whisky for the beer world.
Safely seated inside Paul Slater – Starward Whisky brand ambassador – introduced himself and his whiskies with an informative history of Australian whisky distilling to date. From the illegal distilleries of early migrants in the 1800’s, through the mass industrial distilling and dubious quality of Corio Whisky in Geelong to todays award winning Tasmanian single malts.
Starward aim to be somewhere in the middle of of those 2 extremes. Neither poor quality nor hard to get hold of or highly priced. They have recently upped production to a continuous 7 day week at the Melbourne based distillery to satisfy demand for their whisky and help keep prices affordable.
So what do they actually taste like?
Well on show this evening were the 2 core releases, Starward Solera and Starward Wine Cask.
Solera at 43% is a single malt aged in Australian fortified wine casks – that’s sherry to you and me but as sherry has a Geographical Indication attaching it to Spain it’s called apera in Australia. The whisky has a soft sweet nose together with a fruity medium body and slight spice at the finish. Very nice indeed,
The Wine Cask – as it’s name suggests – is aged in Australian wine barrels and bottled at 41%. This is a more satisfying single malt to me giving a more smoother yet richer body with a lovely dry finish.
Both these whiskies being made in Australia using locally sourced water, barely, yeast and barrels have that terroir factor which is often missing in many a modern brand and truly give the drinker a taste of Oz.
Paul then introduced us to a Starward made ready mixed Old Fashioned. Not particularly being a cocktail fan – despite it being all the rage right now – I found it too sweet for my liking. The rest of the audience enjoyed it however especially as it was paired with some deliciously tasty canapes freshly prepared by the Pilgrim chef.
The last sample came from a New World Projects bottling. This is part of a range of whisky expressions made on a limited release basis that push the boundaries of what a whisky is, should be or can be. Not being restrained by hard set rules like the Scottish Whisky Association – anything goes in Oz.
A very popular bottle was the Ginger Beer Cask finished whisky which very quickly sold out sadly meaning I missed out on a fun taste experience!
Tonights sample was a Pedro Ximinez finished single malt bottled at 48%. Even before I tasted this I knew it was a style I enjoyed. The rich tart fruity finish certainly had me enthralled. A winning whisky indeed. Pity the whole experience of importing PX barrels from Spain proved so fraught with bureaucracy – let alone cost – that Starward probably won’t repeat this excercise.
Starward are already making waves in the global market. Diageo have recently injected some capital into the project to help it’s growth and so fat the creative and innovative flair of the New World Projects series is continuing.
None of the bottles had age statements. From 2 years onwards the new spirit can be called whisky in Australia although Starward only use the best casks from a variety of ages for their single malts. The climate at the Essendon distillery on the outskirts of Melbourne also helps give the spirit a faster maturation time period than is standard in Ireland or Scotland.
The distillery itself also has regular open days. What better way of enjoying a taste of the fine whisky on offer at Starward after being given a guided tour of how and where it is made whilst gazing at the racks of whisky barrels slowly maturing nearby?
Go on – give Starward a go.
They’ll be coming to a store near you very soon!