The first few times I tasted the Stellum Black lineup of bourbons and ryes, I spent a large portion of my mental energy simply trying to make sense of exactly what kind of space the Stellum Black line is intended to fill in the modern whiskey marketplace. This is the premiumized, “limited” version of the regular Stellum line, which is intended to be the high-value blended bourbon and rye extension of the premium-priced Barrell Craft Spirits lineup. The function of the core Stellum brands makes complete sense—an accessible bourbon and rye blend offering great value, at a distinctly more affordable price point than regular batches of Barrell Bourbon. But Stellum Black, I’ve never quite been able to separate in my mind, in terms of what really makes it distinct from a Barrell Bourbon batch specifically, especially when their price tags are almost identical.
But you know what? I’ve gone through those mental gymnastics a few times, and I’m not doing it anymore. And that’s primarily because I’ve really liked pretty much every expression that has worn the Stellum Black label to date—they’re just excellent blends of U.S. bourbon and rye, and as the series has progressed it’s become clear that each intends to be pretty distinct from the previous bottles. And that differentiation and novelty helps me to simply accept these MSRPs and focus on what’s in each bottle. So let’s do that.
The two newest expressions in the Stellum Black Specialty Blends series are Hunter’s Moon Bourbon, and The Lone Cypress Rye Whiskey. Like all Stellum Black blends, this is “a blend of Indiana bourbon/rye, which is then layered with older bourbons/ryes from Kentucky and Tennessee, creating a unique everyday whiskey.”
Again, I find myself wondering if you can really market any $100 bottle as “everyday whiskey,” but I digress. This is a premium product, and that is born out in the experience of tasting them. So let’s get to it.
Stellum Black Hunter’s Moon Bourbon
ABV: 57.8% (115.52 proof)
The nose on this burly, wintery bourbon is giving me impressions of fresh caramel corn, nutmeg, clove and no shortage of oak—it has a woodsy, lumberyard kind of feel that gives a certain outdoorsy impression. I’m also getting rye spice and perhaps a bit of pine-like resin.
On the palate, this one strikes me as fairly dry for the proof, and more dry than I remember most previous Stellum-branded bourbons, although there are flashes of brown sugar, along with slightly burnt caramel. I’m getting lots of dry baking spice, with notes of cinnamon and nutmeg, but also big herbaceous tones—rosemary, pine resin, and more savory herbals. There’s lots of oak as on the nose as well, with sawmill impressions, along with a prickly, intense rye spice and pepper. The finish is notably dry, and this batch will appeal more to drinkers who like their bourbon oak-forward and on the drier side.
Stellum Black The Lone Cypress Rye Whiskey
ABV: 57.7% (115.34 proof)
The Lone Cypress has a nose that immediately stands out as herbal and complex—I’m getting lots of anise and red berry fruitiness, with a particular fresh and resinous quality that brings juniper berries to mind. At the same time, I’m also getting molasses, deeply caramelized sugars and fragrant cinnamon.
The palate is equally intriguing and engaging, with flashes of floral tones and juniper berry, combining with pine resin and pomegranate molasses. There’s plenty of pepper and rye spice, as one would expect, with a linger anise that combines with the herbal tones to remind me of pastis of the lingering aftertaste of absinthe. At the same time, there does exist a deep, round sweetness that ties everything together.
As good as the bourbon releases from Stellum have often been, I have a history of becoming enamored with the rye whiskeys, and I think this is another one of those instances. This is one of the more unique and distinctive ryes I’ve tasted in recent memory, and I can’t wait to see how it plays in classic rye whiskey cocktails.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.