In a galaxy far far away (20 minutes from Melbourne’s CBD) the team at New World Whisky Distillery are crafting some of Australia’s most innovative spirits.
New World, best known for Starward whisky, inhabits an ex-aeroplane hangar painted black to trap the heat into what is an already smouldering building come summertime. “When you think about distillery locations, it’s easy to imagine a remote island somewhere and get a lovely and romantic image of isolation in your head,” says Paul Slater. But the quintessential remote distillery, which Scotland has led us to believe to be the norm, would be highly impractical for staffing, distribution and material reconnaissance in Australia.
New World’s unassuming location near Melbourne’s central airport significantly contributes to the taste of their hand-crafted spirits. The heat, Slater explains, considerably quickens the ageing process. As a result, Starward whisky only needs to stay in the barrel for two years. This goes against the preconception that the longer something is aged for, the better it is. It is also a positive as the boys behind the booze would probably get bored if they were kept waiting any longer. “Our ethos has always been forward-thinking. We’re very aspirational,” says Slater.
You can see New World’s ambitious spirits rapidly absorbing notes of wood and dried fruit from the Australian ex-pinot and Apera (Australian sherry) casks which line the walls of their Essendon distillery. During the working week, these frame a production line in full swing. On Fridays from 6pm and Saturdays from 2, however, you can pay $10 to wander through the rows and see the complete process yourself; from breaking down locally grown and malted barley husks to fermenting, ageing and bottling the spirit. When we popped in, steam was rising from a new batch of barrels that needed cleaning out. The drama of seeing age-old traditions in such a drastically modern setting is profound.
Naturally, the visit culminates in a tasting. Sniff, swirl and sip Starward’s two signature styles before moving on to some of the more ambitious offerings from New World Projects. At any time, they might have a short run of homemade ginger beer distilled into a firey single cask, a “New World Ale” made in collaboration with a local brewer or even a pumpkin-spiced seasonal gin. Several bottles and nips of these limited releases are only available behind the bar. You can sample what the team make onsite atop a tasting bench made from 75 year old French Oak. “When you work in a distillery, you develop an affinity for wood,” says Slater with a smile. A ginormous 30,000 litre brandy vat has been broken down and repurposed to make the rich wooden bench, which sits at more than twelve metres in length. To illustrate the barrel’s scale, its supersized metal hoops hang above the tasting area as custom light fittings with an extraterrestrial glow.
Since first opening in 2009, New World has continued to be ambitious and push the boundaries of design, production process and how they market themselves to whisky’s burgeoning demographics. Founder, David Vitale, began as a keen micro-brewer and later learnt about whisky from Bill Lark in Tasmania. Vitale self-funded the Essendon distillery, which is growing day by day. In this year alone they’ve added 40% to their production, increased to five production staff and opened their bar to the public twice a week. From where we see it – Starward can’t stop, won’t stop. They’re aiming for the stars.