We sat down with David Vitale, founder of Starward Whisky
NAME: David Vitale
BRAND: Starward Whisky
Tell us a little about yourself...
I grew up in an Australian, Sicilian family meaning food and drink were part of the fabric of our lives. Special occasions, family dinners, everything centred around the dinner table and sharing that joy together. Serendipitously, my first working foray into whisky happened to be with none other than the Australian whisky godfather, Bill Lark. After working in Tasmanian for several years, I wanted to come home and make a modern whisky that was truly Melbourne, born and bred. I was inspired to create a spirit that reflects this unique cultural epicentre – from its culture to its famed ‘four seasons in a day’ temperature swings to claiming food capital of the world.
Tell us a little about your brand...
We’re proudly Melbourne, from the intensely reactive climate which ages and matures our whisky, to the quintessential Melbourne approach to drinking and dining – broad, eclectic and an option for everyone. We have whiskies with no airs and graces and – like all great whiskies – a true reflection of the place it’s made.
I began with a simple vision; to create a distinctly Australian whisky to offer the world with pride. In 2007 it all started with curiosity and the impetus to try, trial and taste. We have arguably some of the best red wine barrels in the world in our ‘backyard’ and with the quality of ingredients and materials available within a day’s drive from Melbourne, we tried something new and never looked back.
Why did you create your brand?
While Australia had a well-established small-scale ultra-premium whisky scene, I aimed to pioneer an affordable, approachable and distinctly Australian whisky. It seems obvious now that all the ingredients for a modern Australian whisky were close by. But, in 2007, when I first started, the idea of an approachable, affordable Australian whisky - served neat or as a cocktail with food – it was a big leap of faith. It seems obvious now that all the ingredients for a modern Australian whisky were close by. But, in 2007, when I first started, the idea of an approachable, affordable Australian whisky - served neat or as a cocktail with food – it was a big leap of faith.
Now Australia’s fastest growing whisky brand, the whole team at Starward are making that vision a reality. We’ve brought together highly skilled brewers, ex-winemakers and fresh young talent to help make what has today been marked as the Most Awarded Distillery of the Year.
What are the highs and lows of owning your own brand?
There's been lots of ‘bet the farm’ moments. Where things could have gone in a very different direction. I think like any startup business, you need to hold your nerve when you are trying to disrupt a category. Note everything is going to go your way, or not everyone is going to understand what you are trying to do.
But the biggest highs are the ones shared with people who believe in you. An employee who choose to leave a stable and predictable job for a start-up, a retailer who will give it a go and support you, and of course drinkers who – despite never having heard of you- give it a try.
Any exciting brand news we need to know about?
This year, Starward Whisky was named the Most Awarded Distillery of the Year at the world’s largest and most competitive international spirit competition; the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC) AND we swept the board at the prestigious Spirits Business World Whisky Masters 2022, taking the top honour of ‘TASTE MASTER’ (best of the whole competition) and winning 10 medals: Master (& Taste Master) for our Tawny #2 (there were only 12 Master medal winners, which are retested to find the overall winner receiving the accolade of Taste Master), Master for Ginger Beer Cask #7; and five golds for Solera, Unexpeated, Octave Barrels, Fortis and Hungarian Oak; and silver for Nova, Left-Field and Two-Fold whiskies.
What do you love about the UK cocktail scene?
I love the diversity of the cocktail scene. With a long heritage particularly in the hotel scene its always a must-do to have a classic Starward cocktail at the Savoy. But equally ewe’ve recently had so much fun bringing to life whisky slushies, delicious highballs and other fun cocktails, and we’re looking forward to some spicy Christmas cheer … (hint on our upcoming ginger Beer Cask #7 release).
Favourite hangout spot?
Oh that’s a cheeky question. There’s so many great Starward hangouts. But Bar Termini is always a must visit It’s the home of the Negroni in London and the closest I can get to Italy when I visit London.
What's the one item you couldn't live without?
My backpack. I have a habit of schlepping things around and it is my life-saver.
What are your five desert island discs?
U2 – All that you can’t leave behind
Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
Coldplay – Ghost Stories
INXS – X
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
And finally, what one piece of advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t be afraid to say no….some might say that the “older-self” needs to listen to that advice too!