Starward held a remarkable tasting event Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth this week to celebrate its new Seafarer whisky.
The distiller filled two identical Australian shiraz oak barrels with whisky last year and bolted one to the deck of the Queen Elizabeth to sail 95,000 nautical miles around the globe, while the other stayed at its Melbourne base.
The Thirsty Travellers were among a lucky group of drinks media and whisky aficionados who went aboard to sample both whiskies and it was fascinating to taste the distinct differences between them.
The product of a special partnership between Cunard and Starward, designed to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s inaugural homeporting season in Australia this year, one single malt whisky experienced temperatures ranging from zero to 32 degrees centigrade as it travelled the world, moving with the motion of the ocean and soaking up the salt of the sea air on its epic journey.
The whisky spent 160 days at sea and a further 187 days visiting more than 90 beautiful ports Clearly weathered by its journey, the now-grey barrel was offloaded in Melbourne on February 10 this year and returned to the distillery.
Then Starward founder David Vitale (pictured above with The Thirsty Travellers) assessed the final whisky, comparing it to a control barrel of the same drop which had remained in Starward’s distillery.
The result is a whisky like no other, according to Vitale.
“The maturation environment is crucial to the final flavour of any whisky so this was an amazing opportunity to create something different,” he said. “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,” he said. “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.
“While The Seafarer still has Starward’s trademark fruit characters, the oak influences are stronger, our jammy characteristics have developed with time and the dessert cooking spices like vanillin are more identifiable.
“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.”
Seafarer has an aroma of marzipan, apricot, currants, red apple, and baked spices; and a warming palate with French oak spice and mildly salted berries.
It also has a lower alcohol content than its sister whisky following its time at sea, giving it a more mellow nose and flavour. This is the first time a Starward whisky has lost alcohol percentage in barrel.
We preferred the Melbourne spirit, which had an amazing aftertaste of honey and cream, while the Seafarer version was more rum and raisin in character.
The whisky is now available to guests on board the 2081-guest Queen Elizabeth as well as visitors to Starward’s Port Melbourne distillery.
Our visit to the QE2 was quite the eye-opener, with its wheelchair check-in desk, special pulley to lower elderly guests into the pool and ballroom dancing.
Blue rinse overload aside, it was a great night. We loved every minute.
The cruise line’s Australian partnerships mark Queen Elizabeth’s first season based in Australia, with her 54-day deployment stretching over February and March this year. The ship will return in December for a 101-day season over the 2019-20 summer, and again in November 2020 for an unparalleled 118-day deployment.
At 90,900 tonnes, Queen Elizabeth is the second largest ship ever to sail in Cunard’s fleet. Launched in 2010, she is also the youngest in the luxury cruise line’s current trio of Queens with features including more than 10 restaurants and cafés, a Games Deck featuring paddle tennis, croquet and bowls, a two-storey library, a ballroom and the three-deck Royal Court Theatre seating 800 guests and offering private boxes.
Following the launch, Ginger and I pretended to get lost and explored the ship. It was very grand, but we probably won’t book a trip until we’re on matching zimmer frames … as most of the passengers seemed to be.