Starward’s Latest ‘Projects’ Release Makes Rare Work Out Of The Classic Bourbon Barrel

Starward’s Latest ‘Projects’ Release Makes Rare Work Out Of The Classic Bourbon Barrel

Randy Lai
Randy Lai


Survey a range of whisky distillers from around the globe, and four in five will tell you that the humble  Bourbon cask (i.e. a charred barrel, coopered using white American oak) is a typical factor in the malt-making equation. Not so at Starward. 

The Melburnian distillery’s trademark offerings — Nova and Two-Fold — make judicious use of red wine barrels: rendering single malt spirits that are fruit-forward in flavour; with an easy-drinking litheness to them. 

That’s why, even on technicality alone, the new Bourbon Cask #2 is such a unique bottle for Starward – one of, if not the most, anticipated ‘Projects’ release from a brand that already boasts no shortage of innovative whiskies to its name. 

A single malt made and matured in Starward’s swish Port Melbourne distillery, the big reveal with Bourbon Cask #2 is that it is aged, to the exclusion of all else, in the emblematic American oak barrels from which it cribs its name. After over a decade of wildly successful experimentation with barrels once containing shiraz, apera, or even honey, the decision to make a small run of whisky in as classic a cask type as Bourbon screams Sliding Doors.

Assuming you’re not a fan of 90s-era romcoms, David Vitale, Founder of Starward, has a few anecdotes that crystallise the importance of Bourbon Cask #2 for the brand — in terms of both symbolism and scarcity:

“When Sam Slaney [Production Director] and I sat down to conceptualise the next ‘Projects’ release, one of the first things we did was to map out the trajectory of what Starward would have looked like if we’d stuck with our instinct honed in craft beer.

Sam had worked in breweries, and I as a (very frustrated) home brewer; but in both cases, the flavours imparted by malted barley and yeast were a phenomenon that was really important to us.

With those as our starting point, we quickly realised the natural conclusion would be to age whatever whisky we were going to make in a bourbon cask — to really bring the dynamic between yeast, malt, and wood to life.” 

In further dialogue with Vitale it becomes clear that, with Bourbon Cask #2, there was an opportunity to time travel, so to speak, back to Starward’s nascent days: when American oak casks were everywhere, and the production team made a fateful, then-risky decision to “bet the farm” on red wine-based maturation. 

This isn’t to say that the brand’s new 52% ABV showstopper is an outlier in the current Starward lineup. In fact, notwithstanding the tropical fruit aromas and distinctly buttery toast note that ex-bourbon casks impart, Vitale was effusive in his description of such barrels as “a wonderful neutral canvas” — able to amplify all the inherent deliciousness of the brand’s Schnapps-esque new make spirit. 

“I always get a smile on my face, trying [Bourbon Cask #2],” says Vitale, “because it reflects so much of the signature flavour profile we were looking for in the brand’s earliest days.”

“Of course, this is now also in bottlings like Nova, but everything is just so much more abundant and obvious in the latest Bourbon Cask expression.”  

For discerning dram lovers then, the allure lies in tasting what is surely one of the purest evocations of Starward’s tropical spirit yet. For additional complexity, Vitale and Slaney opted to mature their new make spirit — also made, top-to-tail, in Port Melbourne — for five “Melbourne years” (a concept that we explore further in Part 2 of this story). 

When asked about the thinking behind racking this whisky for five years, Vitale likens the balance of flavour he’s gunning for, with Bourbon Cask #2, to the geometric properties of a triangle — all sides being equal in length, culminating in a fixed value. Half a decade was necessary for the raw spirit to assume this shape. 

For a handful of lucky drinkers, come World Whisky Day, which means a lightly bodied spirit rippling with flavours of dried banana and lemon curd. Not to mention: a living slice of alternate history. 

“When it comes to the spirited aspect of what we do at Starward, this is certainly one of our more elegant releases,” says Vitale. “And I tell you what? I absolutely can’t wait to test it as part of a classic whisky sour.”

This article is sponsored by Starward Whisky. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Boss Hunting.

Randy Lai
Following 6 years in the trenches covering consumer luxury across East Asia, Randy joins Boss Hunting as the team's Commercial Editor. His work has been featured in A Collected Man, M.J. Bale, Soho Home, and the BurdaLuxury portfolio of lifestyle media titles. An ardent watch enthusiast, boozehound and sometimes-menswear dork, drop Randy a line at [email protected].



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