New World Whisky Distillery, Essendon Fields

West Side Stories

New World Whisky Distillery, Essendon Fields

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Think whisky and, chances are, you’ll think of Scotland. Cue images of rolling emerald hills, crystal-clear water and moody skies.
Replace these clichéd scenes with a hangar at Essendon Airport that’s now crowded with barrels and bottles, and you’ve found your way to New World Whisky Distillery.
It’s 17,000-odd kilometres from the spirit’s birthplace but, as New World’s founder and chief David Vitale points out, distilleries no longer need to be situated close to fresh water or crops.
“Once you accept that we aren’t in Scotland, then really we could be anywhere,” Vitale says.
New World is uniquely Australian. Created in Melbourne using Victorian barley and barrels from wineries in Victoria and South Australia, it is a product true to Vitale’s vision to produce a distinctly Australian whisky that can be proudly offered to the world.
The path that led to that vision had its twists and turns. Vitale studied business and accounting at university before launching a successful e-learning business in the days when ADSL was new technology.
He wanted to try something new and he wanted to create his own destiny. So he and his then-fiancee Holly took a leap of faith and moved to Tasmania, where he learned his craft at the acclaimed Lark Distillery.
Vitale admits happily that he and Holly did things in reverse to many families.
“A lot of people live in the city then move to the country when they have kids,” he says. “We lived 30 minutes outside Hobart when we were in our mid-20s and then moved back to Melbourne.”
A native of the western suburbs, Vitale says it was natural to return to his roots when setting up his business.
“The west offers such diversity – it’s not just cultural diversity, it’s everything,” he says. “Just between Footscray and Moonee Ponds you have every kind of home and nationality and environment.”
The hangar at Essendon Fields was perfect – it was a blank slate close to home and seems to represent the innovative, outside-the-box thinking that Vitale champions.
It’s also a perfect climate for maturing whisky. Melbourne’s famous four seasons in one day help mature Vitale’s product in an enviably short time frame.
“We are doing things differently and that’s what we want,” he says.
The market seems to want that too. New World’s products are now stocked at Dan Murphy’s and Vintage Cellars, along with independent retailers and licensed venues who support fine Australian products.
But Vitale says it’s at the cellar door that the whisky makes the greatest impression.
“Liquid to lips, that’s our mantra,” he says.
“We love sharing what we do with people. Buying a bottle of whisky is really personal. We want to be the bottle at the front of the cabinet that’s there for sharing, not just for special occasions.”