This week we turn our attention to Starward Left-Field, an Australian single malt with aspirations to woo us Europeans.
A new bottle of whisky has arrived from Starward Distillery and it’s got us scratching our heads. It’s called Left-Field, but like the distillery’s other bottlings there’s no age statement. Plus it demonstrates that the brand’s love affair with Australian wine barrels is still going strong. This time the ageing too place in 100% charred French oak red wine barrels (Shiraz, Cabernet and Pinot Noir) from the Barossa Valley and Yarra Valley regions, before Left-Field was bottled at 40% ABV. So, by Starward’s standards, not very ‘left field’.
There’s more confusion in the press materials where it says that Left-Field was designed with the ‘European palate’ in mind. Up till now, Starward has only been available in Australia, UK and the US. So this points to a push into continental Europe. But what exactly is a ‘European palate’? Are European tastes particularly different from American, Australian or British? Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see an Australian whisky going global. Despite making outstanding spirit, other Australasian brands such as Lark, Cardrona, Sullivan’s Cove have been unable to do so with any real regularity due to stock constraints.
It’s just that, in many ways, this expression is business as usual for Starward. Not a problem as the whisky is often delicious. The distillery makes good use of Australian barley and wine barrels, giving the spirit a point of difference and a determinable house style. David Vitale, Starward’s founder, is an open and interesting leader who has done a brilliant job communicating its process and ambition. The marketing and brand design is sleek and modern, the booze is very affordable, at least by Australian whisky standards, and in my mind, the distillery has done well to achieve its tricky aim of combining the best of the old world and marrying it with the new.
Starward Left-Field: a marvellously mixable malt
What Starward also does well is make versatile booze that can be mixed with ease. With regards to Left-Field, Vitale describes it as a “flavourful but easy drinking and approachable whisky” and says that it’s a whisky for people’s “sharing cabinet”, rather than their “special occasion” whisky cabinet. The sample I received also came with tonic water as that’s the recommended serve, which Vitale claims is “refreshing and bright and brings out the smooth, full flavour of our whisky”. To hammer home the playfulness of this one, there’s also a couple of cocktails recipes (below) for a Spritz made with vermouth and grapefruit soda as well as a classic Sour which includes Australian red wine.
While the richer, darker elements of Left-Field profile seems more suited to an Old Fashioned or Manhattan/Rob Roy (what are they called when they’re made with Australian whisky? A Cate Blanchett? A Phar Lap?) than a Sour, I still think this is the approach that has greater merit. Left-Field is versatile enough to suggest a fair number of bartenders will (hopefully) soon be having a lot of fun experimenting with it. But, again this isn’t very left-field, given Starward’s other expressions are all great mixers.
Regardless of how it’s marketed, Starward Left-Field is an approachable, enjoyable dram. It’s got that Starward DNA I love. Think fresh malted barley still warm from the washback and toasty, slightly spicy oak providing the hammock in which a litany of orchard, tropical and red fruits sit merrily in the Aussie sun. There is also a youthful vibrancy I find charming though occasionally I get a little immaturity as well as some clumsy tannic and earthier elements on the palate. But tonic water is a good remedy for this, it rounds off the rougher edges and allows all that fruitiness to really shine.
So that’s the new Starward: it’s not particularly left field but it’s a great mixer. And it certainly appeals to my European palate.
Starward Left-Field Tasting Note:
Nose: Fruity notes come from tannic red apple skin, strawberry laces, apricot jam, orange peel, fresh raspberries and mango slices in juice. Alongside them is a dusting of cacao powder, oaky vanilla, ginger beer, a little charred chilli pepper. Then demerara sugar, maple syrup, nougat and milky coffee. Around the edges, toasted almonds and marzipan make an appearance, with some fresh nutmeg grated on top for good measure.
Palate: Through a core of winey-woodiness, there’s PX-soaked sultanas, ginger cake, more of that beautiful maltiness and some tartness from cherries and cranberries. The tone is darker than the nose thanks to blackcurrants, dark chocolate and liquorice taking centre stage. Although there’s enough rye bread, stewed orchard fruit, aniseed and caramel to keep thing interesting. The palate is also earthier than the nose and a touch too tannic.
Finish: Some of those tropical and darker fruit notes echo into the finish, which also has a tang of balsamic vinegar, a sprightly touch of peppermint and more of that red wine funk.
Starward Left-Field Cocktails:
Left-Field and Tonic
100ml tonic water
Build all ingredients over ice in a highball glass. Garnish with a wedge of grapefruit (orange will do in a pinch).
30ml rose vermouth
90ml grapefruit soda
Build all ingredients over ice in a wine glass and garnish with a mint sprig and grapefruit wedge.
New World Sour
20ml lemon juice
15ml Australian red wine
20ml sugar syrup
20ml egg white
Dry shake all ingredients but the red wine in a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake again. Serve on the rocks then gently pour the red wine into the glass