As we endorsed in yesterday’s strong review of Stellum Bourbon, it’s always nice to see another affordable, cask-strength whiskey option enter the market. Stellum, as previously explained, is the new product line from the popular blenders at Barrell Craft Spirits, who in the past have primarily blended bourbon, rye and rum into one-time-only batches targeted at the premium consumer/whiskey geek market.
Those releases often sit in the $90-plus range in terms of their MSRPs, but Stellum is meant to make Barrell’s output more accessible, while still retaining its cask strength designation. Unsurprisingly, both Stellum Bourbon and Stellum Rye are thus composed of younger barrels as a result, but the average age on these products are still respectable. Moreover, both Stellum brands transfer the focus increasingly onto whiskey from the powerhouse of MGP of Indiana—they’re still blends that incorporate whiskey from KY and TN as well, but both blends are significantly more MGP focused.
Yesterday, we tackled Stellum Bourbon, so today it’s time for Stellum Rye. What we have here is a cask-strength blend of rye whiskeys from KY, TN and IN, but primarily composed of MGP’s classic 95/5 (95% rye, 5% malted barley) mash bill. The whiskeys incorporated into Stellum Rye fall between 4-10 years of age, and it sits at a cask strength of 58.12% (116.24 proof). Like Stellum Bourbon, it has an MSRP of $55, which isn’t bad at all for decently aged, cask-strength MGP rye. Certainly, that’s a price point that makes this an option for lots of consumers who wouldn’t otherwise check out a $90 Barrell release, making another rye whiskey such as Heaven Hill’s Pikesville an obvious competitor at roughly the same price point.
With that said, let’s get to tasting and see how this compares to Stellum Bourbon.
On the nose, Stellum Rye immediately leads off a bit on the hot side for me, with more of an ethanol presence than I experienced in Stellum Bourbon. That heat blows off with a bit more time, revealing notes of green apple, dried herbs, honey tea and rye spice. The herbal notes evoke dill, mint and anise—classic notes for MGP rye. There’s also some hints of red fruit, but they’re subtle.
On the palate, Stellum Rye leads off with big notes of warm caramel/honey and red fruit (strawberry), but then quickly transitions into a drier dimension that combines malty, toasty notes, some chocolate (milk chocolate) and lots of herbal and spicy notes. It definitely reads as drier than the richness of Stellum Bourbon, with spice notes of licorice, clove and nutmeg giving way to herbaceousness that evokes thyme and dill. Overall, that makes Stellum Rye a whiskey that is favoring spice and herbal notes most strongly, which is also pretty typical for this kind of very high-rye mash bill. The ethanol, meanwhile, has retained some of the heat I was getting on the nose, making Stellum perhaps a candidate for at least a little bit of water when it comes to neat drinking. As is, this one feels slightly on the wild side, without as much composure as the bourbon.
All in all, I find myself preferring the profile of Stellum Bourbon a bit more when it comes to making a direct comparison, although Stellum Rye has the punch to potentially make it a dynamite cocktail rye in particular. Already, I’m making a mental note to try this in my next black Manhattan.
As for the value, it’s still hard to argue with cask-strength MGP rye for $55, especially in the current market. As a brand, Stellum seems well-designed to exploit this particular niche for affordable, cask-strength American whiskey.
Distillery: Barrell Craft Spirits
City: Louisville, KY
Style: Blend of straight rye whiskeys
ABV: 58.12% (116.24 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $55 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.