Santa has come early this year and he's packing a bottle of something special from one of Australia's most awarded distilleries: Starward Whisky.
Known for distilling innovative whisky and gin projects alongside their flagship Nova Single Malt Whisky, the folks at Starward have created a limited-edition Tawny whisky, just in time for Christmas.
"It's quite rich and decadent," said Sam Slaney, Head Distiller and Tawny innovator at Starward Whisky.
"It has more body intensity and flavour compared to our normal releases: lots of dried fruit, Christmas cake and plum pudding characters - both aroma and flavour - and a really lovely sugary character from the oak."
For a limited time only
The Tawny whisky limited run of 4000 bottles – that may sound like a lot, but it's common for Starward special-edition releases to sell out within a matter of hours – obtains these unique flavours from the barrels used for maturation: 100-litre 'octave' oak barrels from family-owned winery, Yalumba, and barrel maker, SA Cooperage.
The Yalumba barrels were filled with Starward's new-make spirit – the final product of distillation before maturation - after their first use to mature the winery's fortified wine product. While the SA Cooperage re-charred used Tawny oak barrels that were then used to achieve a balance of flavours.
This combination of small-format barrels imbues Tawny whisky with a rare complexity in both aroma and flavour, and one you won't find in many other whiskies. It's a recipe of which the Starward team are understandably proud.
A new direction on taste
"I'm pretty excited about where whisky's going," said Slaney.
"I think whisky is traditionally a pretty conservative industry compared to other beverages, but with recent changes in what people want to drink and interest in flavours and exploring different things, [we're seeing] a big demand for our Projects whiskies."
"We go from one end to the other in terms of level of innovation and how traditional or non-traditional our whiskies are. What we really want to do is work with great wineries that are doing good stuff, that use really good quality wood and are happy to work with us on making whiskey."
This approach has recently seen the Starward team create a limited-edition bourbon cask whisky – it sold out within four hours – multiple runs of a ginger beer cask whisky, and launch an extremely unique whisky with luxury cruise line, Cunard, dubbed The Seafarer.
A drop in the ocean
Matured in a 225-litre cask strapped to the deck of the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship, The Seafarer slowly matured over twelve months as the ship sailed the globe. It's likely one of the most ambitious maturations ever undertaken by a distiller.
It's no surprise, then, that the novel approach to creating Tawny is the sum effort of two distinct outcomes from two different types of barrels.
"Because of the quite small format barrels you get more intensity of oak flavour and previous use flavour; that tawny character," said Slaney.
"You also get a greater intensity and richness from the charring process."
"With a fortified wine you get a bit of residual liquid [in the barrel] and that does quite different things to the mouth feel. Then at the same time it has a bit of dryness to the finish, so it finishes quite bright."
How you prefer
If you're keen to reinvent your festive season rituals, try a glass of Tawny whisky with a slice of Stilton or Roquefort cheese; or dried fruits, like muscatel raisins, or even a slice of fruit cake. If you're a little more adventurous, pair it with some smoked mussels or oysters for a stand-out summer picnic.
If you're fast enough, you can pick up a 500ml bottle of Tawny Cask online, at the distillery, in Port Melbourne, or at the Starward pop-up store, at Myer Melbourne.