Since Starward came onto the Australian whisky scene it has released numerous creative expressions which have been met with increasing fanfare, and nowadays fans of the brand need to join a ballot for the chance to secure some of Starward’s most sought-after expressions. One such expression is Starward’s new release, “Tawny #2”. I had the chance to explore and unpack Starward’s Tawny #2 at an intimate lunch at the distillery in Port Melbourne.
Starward’s Tawny #2 is the iteration of the very popular Tawny #1, which was released in 2019. The common thread of Starward’s Tawny #1 and #2 is, as the name suggests, maturation in ex-Tawny barrels from the Barossa Valley in South Australia. But, as my day at Starward made clear and as I’ll explain here, Starward’s vision and blueprint for Tawny #2 differs to that used for its predecessor, Tawny #1.
One of Starward’s distillers explained to me that Tawny #2 was designed to be different to Tawny #1. Whilst Tawny #1 was about showcasing the deliciousness of Tawny barrels, Tawny #2 is more about letting Starward’s spirit shine through the Tawny. That spirit, he said, has evolved over the seven years he has worked at the distillery.
Let me explain a bit about Starward’s evolved distillery character, as it was explained to me by its distiller. Starward initially used certain yeast and longer fermentation processes that yielded spirit with banana notes and a residual yeasty character. Starward have since changed the yeast which they use, fine tuned their fermentation processes (by, as the distiller explained, reducing the length and temperature of the fermentation) and increased the reflux of their still to create a cleaner, lighter spirit with more complex tropical fruit notes. (As an aside, if you are interested in reading about fermenting, distilling and how whisky is made, you can read my post on the topic by clicking here. If you would like to see a still’s reflux in action, check out my post on my visit to the Glen Grant distillery during which Glen Grant’s master distiller Dennis Malcolm walked me though the distillation process).
Now, keeping all that in mind, the idea of Tawny #2 is to create a whisky which not only showcases flavour from Tawny barrels, but which also lets Starward’s (clean tropical fruity) spirit play a leading role in the whisky’s profile. Simple, right?
Well, no. Successfully designing Tawny #2 turned out to be far from simple, as I found out from trying its component whiskies.
At the Staward distillery I had the chance to taste all the different components which went into Tawny #2. All these component whiskies were matured in ex-Tawny barrels which, as I later found out from a distiller, were made from American oak. There were, however, some important differences between them as I’ll now explain.
For one thing, they were matured in barrels of different sizes – two were matured in 100 litre barrels, one in a 200 litre second fill barrel, one in a 300 litre barrel, and the final one in a 500 litre puncheon. Spirit tends to extract wood flavours from smaller barrels more quickly and differently than they can from larger barrels because there is more surface area contact with the wood.
Another key difference was that some of the whiskies were matured in barrels which were charred after arriving from the winery whilst others were matured in barrels that were left essentially untouched and “fresh” from the winery. Charring unlocks some of the flavours in wood so whisky matured in charred barrels extracts more of these unlocked wood flavours and sugars, and this was certainly true on my tasting of the components that went into Tawny #2. In contrast whisky which matured in the fresh barrels, being uncharred, seemed to have extracted more of the fruity notes from the Tawny wine and less of the wood notes.
Each of the component whiskies had their individual quirks. My favourite was the single malt matured in 100 litre charred Tawny barrels, because it had a big woody kick of flavour (incidentally people at the lunch preferred different component whiskies, which just goes to show how subjective taste in whisky can be!). When creating Tawny #2, according to the distiller, the goal was to blend these component whiskies in a way that smoothed out their quirks (which I actually really liked) in order to achieve a more balanced and approachable flavour profile that also allowed Starward’s spirit to shine through the Tawny and oak influence from the barrels. With that aim in mind, Starward certainly hit a home run in my opinion – Tawny #2 was fragrant, superbly balanced and very drinkable (though detailed tasting notes elude me because after tasting five of the component whiskies it was a bit of a blur – not to worry, I’m told a sample is in the post so tasting notes will be posted when the sample arrives).
In addition to having the opportunity to try the component whiskies of Tawny #2, we sat down to have a lovely lunch created by a chef from 14 Days of Cheese. Each course was paired with cocktails by Starward’s brand ambassador.
First, we had Starward Tawny #2 compressed watermelon with black onion, burrata and burn orange, which was paired with a cocktail called “Melbourne Highrise” (Tawny #2, sherry, ginger, and mint). This combination worked very well together, and I loved the taste of spicy ginger in the cocktail after each morsel of the creamy burrata.
Second, we had Starward Tawny #2 glazed and smoked duck breast, charred leek, and fig, which was paired with a cocktail called “Go Figure” (fig, green walnut, orange bitters, and I assume Tawny #2). If I could have licked my plate, I would have! (perhaps a few more drinks would have nudged me over the line). The cocktail reminded me of an Old Fashioned and I thought the whisky really worked well with the orange bitters.
Overall, I think the chef from 14 Days of Cheeses and Starward’s brand ambassador did a superb job in pairing food with Tawny #2 cocktails, and in particular playing on the fig and orange notes you tend to find in Tawny wine. It also demonstrated the versatility of Starward’s Tawny #2, in its ability to shine through in cocktails and match well with certain foods.
Tawny #2 is an Australian single malt whisky which I can highly recommend… if you can find one (I hear they’ve gone to a ballot and are already sold out!). Kudos to Starward for continuing to keep its whisky accessible at reasonable prices through a ballot rather than just hiking up prices in response to demand.
Thanks for Starward for the lovely experience, lunch, and the opportunity to try lots of whisky and cocktails!