Starward Whisky’s new distillery and bar: No gatekeeping, new experiences and a sense of place

Starward Whisky officially launched its revamped Distillery and Bar last week, with a big focus on sense of place, experience and making accessible whisky that doesn’t deter new entrants to the category.

Following a refurbishment of it’s Port Melbourne distillery, Starward Whisky officially launched its new bar and hospitality experience within the venue last week. The new offer includes a first-time food menu headed up by a new head chef to complement the Starward Whisky portfolio, as well as a variety of experiences that whisky newcomers and aficionados alike can enjoy on the premises.

“After launching our bold and exciting new packaging in November 2023, as well as taking out the Most Awarded Distillery of the Year at the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, the reopening of our Distillery & Bar feels like the natural next step for us, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Melbourne locals and travellers embrace our new home of whisky,” stated Starward Distillery CEO Simon Marton.

Making Australian whisky accessible

At the launch founder David Vitale spoke about the distillery and bar’s ethos, in ensuring that it helps to remove the elitist reputation surrounding whisky.

“We’ve already established that we make great quality whisky in Australia, and really what I wanted to do is get it out of the special occasion cabinet and into the sharing cabinet. Most people that love whisky have two cabinets: one not to be touched, and one that’s like ‘help yourself’,” explained David.

“We wanted to be in the help yourself section. That was our intention from the very beginning – something that was accessible and something that was really approachable, but most importantly talked to the place it was made.”

The public have been hugely receptive to this focus on accessibility at Starward, with David stating that since their soft launch of the distillery and bar at the beginning if the year, it’s been the ‘plus-ones’ that have attended – people who’ve known less about the category or not considered themselves as whisky drinkers – who have been the biggest and loudest advocates of the brand after visiting.

Another part of removing the gatekeeping around whisky is how the drinking of whisky is approached.

“Of course, you can drink Starward neat in a twee jacket with a pipe next to a fireplace if that’s your thing, but I get more excited by thinking of Starward as something you can drink before dinner as much as you can drink after dinner, or the fact that whisky can be both a drink and an ingredient. We have no problem taking all of these other great spirits and making them into great cocktails – why not whisky?,” David asked.

“This new bar and distillery is a celebration of that.”

A sense of place

The other big component for David is infusing the brand with a real sense of place, in the same way that Scotch and American whisk(e)y have a strong cultural brand and importance.

“We wanted this to be a love letter to our hometown, Melbourne, and to Australia. Why? Great whiskies talk of the place they’re made. The best of those whiskies… talk to the culture of the place.

“We wanted to own Australian whisky from a cultural perspective, so what sets us apart from the other categories of whisk(e)y? That’s why we use the red wine barrels, because nothing says Australia from a drinks perspective like red wine. So we’re leaning in to what makes whisky distinctive, but with an Australian attitude.”

Creating an experience

A large component of Starward’s hospitality offer within the venue is to offer a variety of experiences that will help visitors immerse themselves in the art of whisky-making.

“After taking some time to reinvigorate our brand home, we’re so excited to finally welcome both new and returning customers back into our space. Whether they’re sipping with friends, embarking on a tour, enjoying a cheese and whisky pairing with colleagues, or expanding their whisky knowledge with our masterclass, the options for enjoyment are endless,” stated Starward’s hospitality and experiential manager, Patty Karakostas.

In an exciting first for Victoria, Starward offers a ‘Fill Your Own Bottle’ experience at the distillery, allowing visitors to get a first-hand experience of bottling their own whisky, straight from a barrel of their choosing. You can then customise the label before the bottle is presented in a take-home gift box.

Guests can also take a step into Starward’s working distillery to see how their whisky is made, in their Distillery Tour and Tasting. There is also a Whisky Masterclass and Barrel Tasting experience on offer.

For a food-and-whisky experience, The Distillery Chef’s Selection dining experience – created by new head chef Drew Traynor (ex Eau de Vie)-  will guide you through a three-course sip and grazing menu, with each dish highlighting each stage of the whisky-making process, with a paired whisky cocktail to enjoy with each course.

“Regardless of where you sit on the whisky-loving scale, our expert team can guide you on a memorable, tailored whisky experience,” stated Patty.

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