Starward's Two-Fold whisky wants to be your everyday go-to mixer

By James Atkinson, November 20 2018
Starward's Two-Fold whisky wants to be your everyday go-to mixer

Melbourne distiller Starward's new Two-Fold whisky isn't a single malt, but nor is it a blended whisky, at least not in the way that Scottish distilleries would use the term.

What Two-Fold is, however, is a unique double-grain whisky – part malt, part grain – selling for $65 and intended to be a home-grown alternative to imported blendeds when it comes to mixed drinks and cocktails.

The move has seen Starward founder David Vitale step into a territory that has sparked hot debate among enthusiasts.

Vitale readily admits that "single malts are more complex, that's what they're designed to do. (But) it's not every day you want a complex whisky."

Starward founder David Vitale at the launch of his new Two-Fold whisky
Starward founder David Vitale at the launch of his new Two-Fold whisky

Five years ago, he conceived the idea of bringing out a more competitively priced Australian whisky by supplementing the malt whisky it distills in house with grain whisky.

Grain whisky, most commonly wheat or maize, is a major component of blended Scotch whisky.

It's a cheaper product at every stage of the production process, being suited to distillation on an industrial scale and requiring less ageing than malt whisky to be considered 'drinkable'.

But Starward's own production facilities are optimised for malt whisky production, so the project meant finding an external party that could supply the distilled wheat.

Enter Manildra, the Shoalhaven NSW distillery billed as the largest in the Asia Pacific region for conversion of wheat into neutral ethanol, the blank canvas from which distillers can create gin, vodka and other spirits.

"They supply pretty much every well-credentialed gin distillery in Australia," Vitale explains.

"They were kind of confounded by the fact that we didn't want grain neutral spirit, what we wanted was something that still had flavour in it.'

"From their perspective they'd view that as impure, but for us it's exactly what we're looking for. We partnered with them to get the flavour profile just right and then started to lay it into barrels."

The end result is a 'Double Grain Whisky' that is a 60/40 split between Manildra-supplied wheat and Starward's own malt whisky distilled in Melbourne.

Starward Two-Fold lands at the completely unprecedented price of $65 a bottle. Depending on who you talk to, it's either a welcome move that makes Australian whisky more accessible or a cynical commercial ploy that is the antithesis of 'craft' distilling.

"I think a lot of producers are really emotionally tied to the idea that everything that they sell they make within their four walls," Vitale suggests.

"We took a bit more of a relaxed view of what 'make' means. The essence of Starward is built around maturing whisky in red wine barrels in Melbourne's four seasons in a day. We're adding substantial character and value and our signature style to the product."

The resulting whisky, Two-Fold is a lighter style of whisky than Starward's single malt products, Nova and Solera.

It may not have the complexity or power to excite the hardcore single malt enthusiast, for whom grain whisky is often considered a poor and unsophisticated cousin.

But that's not who Starward is targeting with this release, which simply aims to provide a local alternative to the imported blended whiskies Australian drinkers would otherwise rely upon as a mixer.

"Ultimately we're here to serve a customer, and give them perhaps their first ever opportunity to try an Australian whisky because they can afford it for once," Vitale says.

Large Scottish blenders would typically have at their disposal whiskies sourced from a multitude of distilleries from which to create a complex symphony of flavours.

Considering Starward had only two product streams to work with, it has done an excellent job at creating a product that competes in this space - keep a bottle on hand for an Australian riff on your favourite whisky cocktails.

James Atkinson

James is a journalist whose career took a turn for the better when he began specialising in what he enjoys most: Travel, food and drink. Whether at home in Sydney or on the road, he's especially diligent at roadtesting bars and restaurants and hunting down some special bottles to bring home.

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