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Starward x Lagavulin Single Malt Whisky

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It doesn’t happen all that often, but occasionally two distilleries or brands team up on a new whiskey: Clonakilty and Garrison Brothers Balmorhea Bourbon; Blackened x Rabbit Hole Blend of Straight Bourbon Whiskey; and Heaven’s Door Master Blender’s Edition aged in Redbreast barrels are a few recent examples. The latest collab comes from two distilleries located on opposite sides of the world—Starward in Australia and Lagavulin in Scotland—and the result of this far-flung partnership is a subtly smoky single malt worth trying.

Melbourne distillery Starward has made a name for itself by maturing its single malt whisky in red wine and fortified wine barrels, which makes sense given that the city is not far from the wine country of Victoria, a region known for its Pinot Noir and Shiraz. Lagavulin, on the other hand, calls Islay home, an island just off the west coast of Scotland known for its heavily peated malts. This collaboration is said to have been inspired by Starward founder David Vitale and production director Sam Slaney visiting Islay and observing how the climate there affects whisky maturation, but there’s likely some corporate synergy at work as well—Lagavulin is owned by British drinks giant Diageo, which is also a major investor in Starward.

The base of the new Starward x Lagavulin expression is the former distillery’s single malt, which spent three years maturing in red wine casks. The whisky was then put into Lagavulin barrels for an additional 18 months, which is plenty of time to soak up the character of this distinctly peaty whisky. The nose opens with just a whiff of peat, but notes of apple crumble and honey soon take over. Take a sip and the palate opens with sweet berry and red-wine flavors followed by bursts of sweet tropical fruit, like grilled pineapple and mango. All this is underscored by tendrils of smoke that curl up at the start of each sip and slowly expand on the finish. There are also notes of black pepper, vanilla, cinnamon, peach, and bright citrus on the palate that round it out and add complexity.

Peated cask-finished whiskies vary in intensity and flavor depending on a few factors: what the base whisky is, where the finishing casks came from, how long the peated whisky was in those barrels, and the length of the secondary maturation. Sometimes it can go overboard, and other times you barely notice the finish. Fortunately, this new collaborative expression is well balanced with equal parts smoke and sweetness. The palate is peaty enough for those who crave a fuggy style of whisky, but the initial red-wine-barrel maturation provides a fruity freshness. At the moment you have to enter a ballot at the Starward website to get your hands on a bottle, but it will be more widely available in stores and online later this spring.

Score: 88

  • 100 Worth trading your first born for
  • 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet
  • 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram 
  • 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market
  • 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable
  • Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this

Every week Jonah Flicker tastes the most buzzworthy and interesting whiskeys in the world. Check back each Friday for his latest review.



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