Spirit Of The Week: Starward Single Malt Australian Whisky

Australia’s premier whisky maker finishes their red wine-soaked single malt in peated Scotch wood.


Starward quickly gained worldwide recognition for its use of local Australian wine barrels for aging, perfecting the wood’s effect on its respected single malt. That recognition has hellped make Starwardthe most popular Australian whisky sold in America, last year celebrating its 15th anniversary with its rarest and most premium whisky yet: Vitalis

Through this pursuit, Starward began cleaning up awards, including “Most Awarded Distillery of The Year” at the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and one of “The World’s Most Admired Whiskies” by Drinks International  2023. 

For their latest limited-edition offering, Starward looks north all the way to the craggy shores of Islay for inspiration—taking their signature wine barrel-matured Australian Single Malt (aged three years) and dumping it in barrels sourced from the famed Lagavulin distillery—which, for over 10 years, soaked in its own peated single-malt Scotch—for an additional 18 months of aging. 

Starward founder David Vitale admits there was no distinct A-ha! moment that lead to this decision. Rather, he credits his team, led by Starward Production Director Sam Slaney, for the epiphany.

“There are lots of peated whiskies finished in various forms of wine barrels—sherry, port and red wine—but our curiosity was really about what would happen if we swapped the process around: Start with red wine barrel-aged whisky and finish it in peated barrels,” explains Vitale. 


After visiting Islay himself, Slaney observed how aging occurred on the cold, rugged coast of the beautiful Hebrides island and how different it affected single malt than in the much warmer climes of Melbourne, Australia. He wondered what the effects would be if you somehow combined the distinct flavor finishes of each destination. 

“Look, we’re an optimistic bunch at Starward, so our expectations were always high,” responds Vitale when asked what he expected from the Lagavulin experiment and how close the final product landed to those expectations.

“I think the challenges were more to do with balancing the flavor and hitting just the right moment to pull the whisky out,” he continues. “Our climate is so radically different day to day, it’s important we don’t leave whisky in the barrel too long.”


Considering Vitale himself named his daughter Islay you might guess the Starward founder is a frequent visitor to Scotland’s most famous whisky-making island. You’d be wrong. 

“I actually haven’t been yet,” he admits. “I was more inspired by whisky than the place.” 

The Australia via Scotland experiment adds subtle influences of peat and “smoldering dry oak” to the signature Starward pineapple and papaya notes, balancing the base tropical sweetness with a touch of brine and Scottish must. Nothing overwhelming, just a European tweak on the Starward foundation. 

After this experiment in heavily peated barrels, the question arises if Starward would ever consider using such barrels from day one of the aging process to further accentuate the Scotch influence—bypassing the Australian red wine altogether, and immediately aging the white dog in smoky Lagavulin wood.  


“You’re right, our world view is informed by these amazing red wine barrels on our door step and the climate we have to work with to age them,” Vitale concedes. “We have had a few ‘full age’ whiskies outside of red wine barrels, and they’re a great celebration of the grains, our approach to fermentation.

“[But] ultimately, we have such a unique opportunity to do things bourbons cannot with aging from day one in red wine, we think of it as a responsibility to lean into this and explore the possibilities of whiskies from that starting point.” 

The limited edition Starward Single Malt Australian Whisky Finished in ex-Lagavulin Barrels comes bottled at 48% ABV, packaged in a sturdy emerald green and gold embossed box for $130

Follow Deputy Editor Nicolas Stecher on Instagram at @nickstecher and @boozeoftheday.