Local Heroes: Sam Slaney from Starward Distillery
Moving to Port Melbourne in 2017, Starward Distillery has gone from strength-to-strength, producing award-winning whiskies that stand out in Australia and globally.
We chatted to Head Distiller Sam Slaney about his transition from beer to whisky barrels, and his unique insight into the Port Melbourne community.
Hi Sam! Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
“I started home brewing while I was at university doing a science degree, before I got a job at homebrewing store Grain and Grape in Yarraville. After finishing my degree, I travelled to Vancouver looking for brewing work.
Because the minimum wage was so low, I got a job in mineral exploration, before eventually coming back to Melbourne. Rather than go back into the mines, I completed a Graduate Diploma of Brewing from Federation University and went back to Grape and Grain to stay involved with brewing.”
How did you come to be at Starward?
“After bouncing around some breweries, I met David Vitale and he talked about opening a whisky distillery. At the time it was quite novel, there weren’t a lot of whisky distilleries around Australia, except in Tasmania.
I got into the distilling there, took a break for two to three years and then came back to Starward, bringing my brewing background into the distilling process.”
What’s Starward’s vision?
“From an early stage, we wanted to be able to offer Australians an Australian whisky at an accessible price point that could feature in back bars around the country, and the world. We didn’t want to be a fantastic but expensive whisky – we wanted to get it to everyone.
Whisky is a very boozy product and you have to do a bit of work to find a way that your customers like to drink it. While we’re happy to have seasoned whisky drinkers have our product, we’re excited by getting non-traditional whisky drinkers into Starward.”
What makes Starward so unique?
“Maturing whisky in red wine barrels wasn’t done much before, so we did a lot of work on getting the process right and having the whisky taste great.
The majority of our 8000 barrels of whisky are sourced from some of Australia’s most iconic wineries to develop a distinctive whisky from the red wine and oak barrels which is reflective of the Starward provenance.
How important is your Port Melbourne location?
“The community is super important. I want to be known in the area as someone who supports the community. We also love going to these places and having our
whiskey whiskies served there!
It’s nice that people can wander into the distillery after seeing a bottle of Starward Two-Fold at a local bar or following a glass of Starward Nova as a post-dinner drink.”
What are some of your favourite places in the area and what does the area need more of?
“Punchbowl Canteen is one of my favourites for great salads and coffee, while The Palace Hotel has an excellent beer selection and good pub food.
I would love to see more connection by public transport and cycling routes to open up access to Port Melbourne from the CBD. Some more green spaces, bars and live music venues in the area would be great too.”
What’s next for Starward?
“We’ve got a major distillery upgrade coming together which will see us working at double capacity in Port Melbourne. We want to be able to deliver some really interesting new whiskies coming up in the short and medium-term, and then keep growing our footprint in more bars.
We want to keep seeing Starward at more places, and then hotting the export market in the UK, France and the USA – so we’re keeping busy! “
Discover more about Starward with a variety of events and tours, or go into their distillery bar to try some of their award-winning whisky.
See more exciting new locations and events with our new Explore Port Phillip blog posts, or check out what else Port Melbourne has to offer.
50 Bertie Street, Port Melbourne
Wednesday to Thursday 3 pm to 10 pm
Friday to Saturday 12 pm to 10 pm
Sunday 12 pm to 8 pm