While most would seldom ponder the number of stamps their whisky would have on its figurative passport as they raise the glass to their lips, Australia’s very own Starward has created a drop that makes even the most well-travelled drinker look like a homebody.
Launched in collaboration with cruise line operator Cunard, The Seafarer is an interesting experiment in what happens when you bolt a 225-litre oak barrel filled with Victoria’s finest to the aft deck of an ocean liner and leave it to its own devices for a year. The result is surprising, complex and delicious.
Though most whisky lives in an oak barrel, stacked in the darkness of a warehouse for anywhere between a few and many, many years, The Seafarer has lived beneath the sun and moon during The Queen Elizabeth’s 2018 round-the-world voyage. Bolted to the thick steel of the deck, this barrel has experienced temperatures as cold as zero, and as balmy as 32 centigrade, as it snaked its way across the globe over exactly 347 days.
The barrel, which is made from a very tight grain French oak, and was originally used in the production of Australian red wine, spent 160 days at sea and a further 187 days visiting ports around the globe, including St Petersburg, Helsinki, Lisbon, Venice, Hong Kong, Penang and Cape Town, as well as its time in Australian waters during the ship’s extended Australian season.
Upon returning to Melbourne earlier this month, the clearly weathered barrel, which left our shores looking very much like it was made of oak, but is now grey, has been emptied and bottled. A second “sister barrel” of the same origin was filled with the same spirit and stored in New World Distilleries’ Port Melbourne warehouse as a control. While the two display vast differences in character, they are both distinctly Starward, and very, very tasty.
Starward founder David Vitale says of the experiment: “The maturation environment is crucial to the final flavour of any whisky so this was an amazing opportunity to create something different. There’s no doubt The Seafarer’s odyssey on Queen Elizabeth has resulted in a unique whisky, which clearly has a great story to tell through its flavours.
“Even if we put a barrel of the same whisky on another ship for a year, we could never emulate the same weather conditions, so this really is a one-of-a-kind drop.”
The Seafarer clearly displays Starward’s trademark fruit characters, the oak influences are stronger, almost as if the liquid had been agitated on the high seas for twelve months inside the barrel (funny that). Richer, jammier characteristics are more prevalent, and the rich vanillins endemic to fresh oak are developed and luscious.
Bottled at cask strength, its flavours are not for the faint-hearted, though a little water can be a good thing, says David. “This is a whisky that’s been on an amazing journey so the result is appropriately epic. It’s a special drop so we’re recommending that it should be drunk neat or with a dash of water, so the subtleties of its flavour can be savoured.”
And while whisky lovers are keen to get a taste, the final product is one of the most exclusive whiskies in the world, available to purchase in 500mL format bottles only onboard Queen Elizabeth, or at Starward’s Port Melbourne site.
The whisky is one of many collaborations with Australian companies undertaken by Cunard, to mark the ocean liner’s first deployment in Australia, with a 54-day season extending from February to March last year. The company also aligned with the Australian Dance Theatre, as well as iconic brands Akubra and R.M. Williams, who provided outfits for the porters on board.
The ship will return this year in December for a 101 day season over the 2019-20 summer, and then again in November 2020 for an unparalleled 118-day deployment.