Classification: Blend of Straight Bourbons
Company: Stellum Spirits
Distillery: Sourced (from undisclosed distilleries in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee)
Release Date: December 2021
Color: Bright Amber
Price: $100 (2022)
Stellum Spirits was launched in March 2021, and then in December a limited release Bourbon and Rye were introduced under the Stellum “Black” label. According to the company press release, it is “a new national brand created to celebrate the modern-day whiskey drinker.” Stellum is produced by Barrell Craft Spirits, which is known for Barrell Bourbon and many other whiskey and spirits products. The inaugural flagship offerings include Stellum Bourbon (blended), Stellum Rye (blended), Stellum Single Barrel Bourbon, and Stellum Single Barrel Rye, all offered at cask strength.
An extension of the original lineup, Stellum Black is a limited-release premium expression of the inaugural offerings, which according to the company press release, is “designed to carry the same classic, cask strength flavor profiles into a more refined, elegant, and complex blend.” Stellum Black is offered in both bourbon and rye formats.
Upfront scents of vanilla and caramel form a familiar and traditional base. Baking spices, allspice, and a dash of cinnamon add a layer of spice, but yield to the sweeter aromas underneath. There’s a nice warmth present that encompasses the overall delivery, and each of the components finds balance with the rest. Even keel and inviting, it’s pleasant and holds the traditional bourbon line but doesn’t quite rise to the level of what’s to follow.
Nicely set up by the aromas, flavors of sweet vanilla and caramel along with a hint of aged oak set the tone. Light cinnamon, a hint of clove, and a noticeable sweet candy note (though I can’t quite pinpoint it), add dimension. Most impressive, however, is the mouthfeel and intensity. It has a heavy weight with a nice, round mouthfeel and plenty of body. Delivered at a 109 proofpoint, the intensity is spot on, rich enough to grip the taste buds, and nicely lacking unnecessary heat that would hide the flavors present. Very well done.
The palate’s round mouthfeel continues into the finish, with a steady base of sweet caramel and vanilla complemented by a touch of brown sugar, toffee, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. While I often notice intensifying spice on the finish in high proof bourbons, there is much less intensity here. Instead, the sweeter flavors hold their own, maintaining a very manageable level of intensity, and as a result make for an enjoyable, medium-length finish overall.
Like the standard Stellum Bourbon, Stellum Black is a blend of bourbons from Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Also like the standard Stellum Bourbon, Stellum Black does not contain a Tennessee component which is noticeable in the flavor profile when compared to many Barrell Bourbon batch releases. As a result, the base Stellum Bourbon is its closest comparison, and Black shares obvious similarities. According to the company, this familiarity is intentional, which is described by company Founder Joe Beatrice as maintaining the “soul of Stellum while creating a new dimension of flavor by adding reserve barrels from our stocks.”
Notably, Stellum Black also comes in at about 6 proof points lower than the standard Stellum Bourbon, which is interesting given the fact that limited releases often set out to target a higher proof than their standard counterparts. In this case, as both releases are barrel proof, the lower proof is undoubtedly a consequence of simply attaining the desired blend. By comparison it’s not immediately noticeable given the fact that the standard Stellum is a relatively easy-drinker despite its 114.98 proofpoint.
On a whole however, Stellum Black is an improvement over the standard Stellum Bourbon. Similar base flavors are present, but Black trades some of the spice intensity found in standard Stellum for a more rounded mouthfeel on the palate and slightly more overall balance. Coupled with its traditional flavor profile, its key attribute draws on its balance and mouthfeel, which are subtle yet notably unique attributes in the greater bourbon-scape.
As a starting point, $99 for a limited release is par for the course nowadays, so this price fits in well in the overall bourbon marketplace. However, Stellum Black doesn’t offer a high age statement (or technically any official age statement at all), and in fact shares quite a few similarities with its $55 readily-available counterpart. It’s positioned as a superior product, but the question consumers will ask themselves is if Stellum Black is worth the $45 upcharge over the standard version. The challenge the company faces is the standard version is already really good, presenting a difficult hill to climb. It’s a great price, and I think appeals to a wide audience. By comparison Stellum Black tastes more carefully curated, and moves the needle up a bit from the standard version - with a bit more upward movement on the palate given the great mouthfeel. For those reasons, Stellum Black comes in at a fair price, however for anyone that’s price sensitive, and for anyone that hasn’t tried the standard version yet, the standard version is the way to go.
The first limited release from the recently launched Stellum Spirits, Stellum Black Bourbon offers a well-balanced sip with a great mouthfeel that stays within the range of - but enhances - the base product.
Consumers expect limited releases to offer a step up from the company’s base products, and if they exceed expectations, even better. Starting with a quality base product, Stellum Spirits’ first limited release bourbon offers a similarly traditional bourbon with a focus on balance, a bit less spice, and a great mouthfeel. The price is right where it should be, but doesn’t quite compel value-seekers enough to opt for Black over the already good standard version. For those who enjoy the standard version and seek something more, however, you should be more than satisfied with Stellum Black Bourbon, making for a pretty good bet that your money is well spent.