In a galaxy far far away (20 min­utes from Mel­bourne’s CBD) the team at New World Whisky Dis­tillery are craft­ing some of Aus­tralia’s most in­no­va­tive spir­its.

New World, best known for Star­ward whisky, in­hab­its an ex-aero­plane hangar painted black to trap the heat into what is an al­ready smoul­der­ing build­ing come sum­mer­time. “When you think about dis­tillery lo­ca­tions, it’s easy to imag­ine a re­mote is­land some­where and get a lovely and ro­man­tic im­age of iso­la­tion in your head,” says Paul Slater. But the quin­tes­sen­tial re­mote dis­tillery, which Scot­land has led us to be­lieve to be the norm, would be highly im­prac­ti­cal for staffing, dis­tri­bu­tion and ma­te­rial re­con­nais­sance in Aus­tralia.

New World’s unas­sum­ing lo­ca­tion near Mel­bourne’s cen­tral air­port sig­nif­i­cantly con­trib­utes to the taste of their hand-crafted spir­its. The heat, Slater ex­plains, con­sid­er­ably quick­ens the age­ing process. As a re­sult, Star­ward whisky only needs to stay in the bar­rel for two years. This goes against the pre­con­cep­tion that the longer some­thing is aged for, the bet­ter it is. It is also a pos­i­tive as the boys be­hind the booze would prob­a­bly get bored if they were kept wait­ing any longer. “Our ethos has al­ways been for­ward-think­ing. We’re very as­pi­ra­tional,” says Slater.

You can see New World’s am­bi­tious spir­its rapidly ab­sorb­ing notes of wood and dried fruit from the Aus­tralian ex-pinot and Apera (Aus­tralian sherry) casks which line the walls of their Essendon dis­tillery. Dur­ing the work­ing week, these frame a pro­duc­tion line in full swing. On Fri­days from 6pm and Satur­days from 2, how­ever, you can pay $10 to wan­der through the rows and see the com­plete process your­self; from break­ing down lo­cally grown and malted bar­ley husks to fer­ment­ing, age­ing and bot­tling the spirit. When we popped in, steam was ris­ing from a new batch of bar­rels that needed clean­ing out. The drama of see­ing age-old tra­di­tions in such a dras­ti­cally mod­ern set­ting is pro­found.

Nat­u­rally, the visit cul­mi­nates in a tast­ing. Sniff, swirl and sip Star­ward’s two sig­na­ture styles be­fore mov­ing on to some of the more am­bi­tious of­fer­ings from New World Projects. At any time, they might have a short run of home­made gin­ger beer dis­tilled into a firey sin­gle cask, a “New World Ale” made in col­lab­o­ra­tion with a lo­cal brewer or even a pump­kin-spiced sea­sonal gin. Sev­eral bot­tles and nips of these lim­ited re­leases are only avail­able be­hind the bar. You can sam­ple what the team make on­site atop a tast­ing bench made from 75 year old French Oak. “When you work in a dis­tillery, you de­velop an affin­ity for wood,” says Slater with a smile. A gi­nor­mous 30,000 litre brandy vat has been bro­ken down and re­pur­posed to make the rich wooden bench, which sits at more than twelve me­tres in length. To il­lus­trate the bar­rel’s scale, its su­per­sized metal hoops hang above the tast­ing area as cus­tom light fit­tings with an ex­trater­res­trial glow.

Since first open­ing in 2009, New World has con­tin­ued to be am­bi­tious and push the bound­aries of design, pro­duc­tion process and how they mar­ket them­selves to whisky’s bur­geon­ing de­mo­graph­ics. Founder, David Vi­tale, be­gan as a keen mi­cro-brewer and later learnt about whisky from Bill Lark in Tasmania. Vi­tale self-funded the Essendon dis­tillery, which is grow­ing day by day. In this year alone they’ve added 40% to their pro­duc­tion, in­creased to five pro­duc­tion staff and opened their bar to the pub­lic twice a week. From where we see it - Star­ward can’t stop, won’t stop. They’re aim­ing for the stars.

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