Melbourne-made whisky returns after a sea voyage around the world

Charlotte Grieve
David Vitale tasting the malt whisky in the Queen Elizabeth's Grand Lobby.   He thought he detected a "saltiness" to the ...
David Vitale tasting the malt whisky in the Queen Elizabeth's Grand Lobby. He thought he detected a "saltiness" to the flavour. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

Standing on the aft deck of the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship, it's glary, windy and the engine is causing the floor to vibrate.

These are the conditions experienced by a whisky-filled oak barrel for 365 days as it joined cruise-goers in voyages around the world.

Starward Whisky founder David Vitale boarded the nine-storey ship in Port Melbourne last Saturday to meet his well-travelled spirit, dubbed the Seafarer.

David Vitale tasted the whisky at its halfway point in South Hampton six months ago and is relieved the barrel has ...
David Vitale tasted the whisky at its halfway point in South Hampton six months ago and is relieved the barrel has arrived in one piece.  Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

Since boarding the ship 12 months ago, the barrel has travelled more than 95,000 nautical miles across the Atlantic and back.

Near the blue-tiled swimming pool, flanked by the ship's newly dressed bell boys wearing red suit jackets and black Akubras, Mr Vitale used a copper pipette to draw whisky from the 225-litre barrel for sampling.

During its ocean voyage, the malt whisky was exposed to humidity, wind and movement that Mr Vitale says caused a "reaction and reduction" that has amplified the typical flavour characteristics and increased the alcohol level in comparison to the land-bound barrel.

"It's a rich, fruity whisky and a good balance between oak and the wine characteristics that come from the barrel we use," Mr Vitale declared after sipping the spirit for the first time since it set sail. He thought he also detected a "saltiness" to the flavour.

When Cunard Cruise Line invited Mr Vitale to mature a barrel of whisky on the deck of the Art Deco-inspired ship, he was at first excited, then nervous.

"How do we make sure the barrel itself isn't going to fall to bits halfway through the voyage?"

Advertisement

The whisky-maker sourced a sturdy French oak barrel from winemakers in the Barossa Valley that he hoped could withstand the elements.

The journey caused the barrel to bleach, shrink and crack, an accelerated form of what Mr Vitale refers to as "elemental maturation".

"Every barrel is different and it's so much influenced by the environment it is in," said Mr Vitale.

Once bottled, the limited edition whisky will be available for guests aboard the nine-year-old ship. But for now, Mr Vitale is celebrating its return with a private tasting.