How Starward Conquered The Whisky Business

Food & Drink

Though my bar cart regularly sees a rotation of whiskies, gins, mezcals and more, a bottle (or two) of Starward whisky has been a mainstay since I discovered the brand in 2017.

And, despite that totalling up to a good five or six years of patronage, I’m still astounded by how much I love Australian whisky.

But I’m not alone. Since its small-scale launch in 2007, Starward has gone on to not only become the fastest-growing whisky in Australia, but one of the UK and US’ cult favorites, sweeping global spirits awards including Most Awarded Distillery (2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition), and ‘TASTE MASTER’ (the highest accolade) at 2022 World Whisky Masters.

Quite the feat for a founder who’d spent most of his life working in finance and tech.

“I took a high growth startup mindset to Starward from the beginning” says founder David Vitale. “It did look a little irrational early on but here we are, fifteen years later, Australia’s largest whisky company.”

In 2007, Australia had a well-established, small-scale ultra-premium whisky scene, but the idea of an approachable, affordable Australian whisky was unheard of.

It’s fair to say Vitale had higher hopes than anyone around him.

“Essentially I wanted it to be as consistent as Johnny Walker, as easy to drink as Maker’s Mark, as distinctive in flavor as Laphroaig 10, as iconic as Wild Turkey and as well-crafted as Balvenie Doublewood,” he says.

So, you know, nothing major.

“Early on, I made every drop of Starward along with our first employee, Sam, who is now our Production Director,” he continues.

Vitale has also adopted many different job titles within the company, from CEO to Head of Sales and Marketing, but has recently moved into the role of Starward’s stateside VP.

“I moved my family and myself to the US four years ago to lead the next chapter of our business’ growth,” he says. “You can’t genuinely be a global spirits brand without having a meaningful presence in the US.”

And it’s working. After winning the aforementioned accolades, Vitale said US sales saw an enormous boost.

“I would love to see the continuing trend of barriers being broken down in whisky and it became as fun, relevant and exciting as, say, tequila is in interesting cocktails,” he says. “And for Starward, well, you know the saying, be the change you want to see.”

Starward Founder David Vitale’s Secrets to Success As A Whisky Business

  1. Belief is contagious. Create something you are passionate about, and then forever repeat that mission and story to whoever will listen to you.
  2. Simplicity always wins.
  3. Work with people that are aligned to your mission. It’s too hard to wasting your time trying to convince people you are right.
  4. Pay it forward. Take what you have learned and make sure the next person that might be able to use it knows about it.
  5. Focus is key. We’ve only ever made one thing and that’s Starward Whisky. A mentor once told me, if you try and catch two rabbits in a field you are not likely to catch either.

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