Two weeks ago I reviewed Stellum Spirits Rye, a blended product that is unusual in the American whiskey market. Here, we have its counterpart: a blended bourbon from the same company. Like the rye, this is a blend of straight bourbon whiskeys bottled at cask strength by award-show darling Barrell Craft Spirits.
This one is a blend of bourbons from unnamed sources, although the label indicates that they originate from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana. The last one suggests MGP bourbon, but there is a growing list of Tennessee producers and Kentucky could mean anything. Trying to guess the components is probably an exercise in futility. The marketing materials indicate that this is actually a blend of at least 5 bourbons. First they build a base with three separate 5-6 year-old Indiana (probably MGP) bourbon mashbills, two of them high-rye and the third almost entirely corn. To this base, they add “older” barrels from Kentucky and Tennessee. The blend is bottled at cask strength, which for this release is a robust 57.49%.
Thanks to a quick Q-and-A over at Fred Minnick’s site, we know approximate ages for both the rye and bourbon (I’ll let you read it over there). Remember: you always have to take age ranges like this with a grain of salt. It’s easy for a producer to say “Oh there’s some 16 year-old bourbon in there!” but there’s a huge difference between 1 old barrel mixed with 6 younger barrels, and 1 old barrel mixed with 999 younger barrels.
The stated goal of the brand is to create “streamlined” blends that showcase the essential attributes of rye and bourbon. This is similar to how scotch blenders approach their art: turning something wild and variable and unpredictable into something reliable and predictable and approachable.
Thanks to Aaron at Ro-Bro Marketing for the sample!
Nose: Yes, that is indeed 57% ABV bourbon. Strong nose tickle, flecked with fruity high notes of cherry syrup and marzipan. It seems to require a rest in the glass to disperse some of the vapor. Now there’s a nice fudgy layer of brown sugar, chewy brownies, and pecan pie filling. Yum. Despite the delectable aromas, the whiskey is still shy and less robust than some other cask-strength bourbons. A longer rest in the glass helps with this.
Palate: Syrupy body. A whollop of tongue burn, followed by cinnamon red hots, maraschino cherries, and sweet cornbread.
Finish: Medium-long, warming. The sweetness persists through the finish, which adds mild woody tannins, has almost no bitterness, and ends slowly but without evolving.
With Water: A splash of water initially mutes the aroma, necessitating yet another rest in the glass. The nose remains unaffected by the water. The palate, however, becomes silkier and acquires a nice tart fruit note (fresh berries). The tongue burn is also more manageable. The tart fruit continues through the finish. Add water if you’re having trouble with the proof.
Overall: This could accurately be described as “Barrell Lite”. It has all of the punch of cask-strength bourbon, a very respectable array of classic bourbon elements, and a consistent sweetness that manages to remain from start to finish. However, it’s lacking some of the power and concentration of Barrell’s higher-end blends. Still, if reliable cask strength bourbon at half the price of Barrell sounds good to you, you’ll enjoy this.
Between the two, I very slightly preferred the rye.