Meet the Maker – David Vitale from STARWARD

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Vintage Cellars
September 1, 2017
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Founder of the award-winning Melbourne distillery speaks about craft distilling and letting location inspire product.

Do you have a certain philosophy or style to your craft?

David: As Founder of STARWARD, I wanted to make a distinctly Australian whisky we could offer the world with pride. We do that by using premium Australian wine barrels to mature our whisky in Melbourne’s four seasons in a day.

How did you get started?

David: I had a passion for craft beer (drinking it) and was captivated by the idea that there could also be a craft whisky industry. Good whiskies start off by making good beer. That was 2004, and I haven’t looked back. I worked at Lark Distillery for 3 years before returning to Melbourne to start making STARWARD.

What is the inspiration behind what you make?

David: We take our inspiration from iconic Australian wineries that have re-invented the way wine is consumed in Australia and re-defined the world’s perception of premium Australian wine.

Can you describe your process for us? Is there anything unique or unusual about your process?

David: It is really simple. Our team of brewers and winemakers take Australia’s best wine barrels and fill them with spirit made with Australia’s best brewing barley. Then, we let Melbourne’s four seasons in a day mature that whisky into Australia’s best single malt whisky. It might be single malt, but it is the furthest thing from a traditional scotch whisky. No kilts or tweed jackets allowed!

In your opinion, what do you think makes a good spirit?

David: Obviously quality ingredients and passion matter, but I’ve never met a dispassionate distiller using inferior ingredients! For us it comes down to making something that reflects the place it is made. Melbourne is such an important part of our whisky’s DNA. Melbournians have a habit of taking a tradition from another place, reinventing it and making it our own – a fusion of old and new. Just look at our coffee culture, born of Italian migrant culture, we’ve taken that over 30 years and turned coffee into something beyond an after dinner drink at an Italian restaurant. Our bar and food scene is another example. I’d like to think that Melbourne has influenced our approach of making and packaging a single malt whisky in a modern way. The other obvious thing is our weather. Melbourne’s four seasons in a day make our barrels the hardest working barrels in the world. We couldn’t make this whisky anywhere else.

How do you feel your role impacts the final product?

David: As founder, I guess I’ve touched every part of the process and have been involved in all of the product decisions along the way. But STARWARD was born of an audacious vision to be an iconic Australian whisky - I guess that’s the biggest impact I’ve had on it, the idea that we can make a distinctly Australian whisky for the world, right here in Melbourne.

How does your personality show through in what you produce?

David: I love the fact we have a young team who are happy to be bold, show initiative and tenacity beyond their years. We also all have an allergic reaction to cynicism. We are all so different in terms of personality but this is a common thread we all share – it’s effectively our team’s personality.

What are the most enjoyable parts of what you do?

David: It would have to be meeting our customers and sharing our story and vision for the future. Nothing is more enjoyable than that for me.

What are the most difficult parts of what you do?

David: Doing the most enjoyable part of my job means I spend a lot of time away from my wife and 3 children.

Where do you see yourself and your industry headed in the next few years? Is there something you’re looking to achieve in the future that you haven’t already?

David: Australia makes great spirits. I can see the same trend in Craft Beer taking off with Craft Spirits generally – in fact it is happening. There is no reason why we can’t drink better quality products that are made in Australia. Bad Frankies – a bar in Collingwood – has proven you can have a cocktail bar with no other spirits except for Australian spirits. I think we’ll see more and more Aussie spirits in our home bars. On a business level, we are well on our way to exporting our product to the world. We’ve started in the UK and will be in a few Asian markets and the West Coast of the US before the end of the year.

Do you have any secrets or advice you can leave us with?

David: Be clear on what you want to achieve and make sure it is a bold enough vision to see you through those moments where you wonder why you are doing it, it will be the source of energy that keeps you driven to succeed.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

David: We have one of the longest whisky bars in Australia made from a 30,000 litre 75 year old Brandy vat. Come and check it out and catch up with the team on a tour, masterclass Fridays and the weekend!