I was shocked to learn that Barrell Craft Spirits intended to expand their line of whiskey into an entirely new brand in late 2020. I was one of the first to know about it since I was asked to help with the first two r/bourbon single barrel picks (a popular bourbon forum on Reddit). At the time, I was confused as to whether or not Stellum was going to be a more upscale Barrell product, much like Lexus is to Toyota. Then I found out that Stellum was the exact opposite and was intended to be their entry level brand, much like Scion was to Toyota. Stellum was not exactly designed to be “entry level” per se, it was created to have a consistent tasting batched product year after year. This differs from Barrell Bourbon products which are unique with every release. Still, Barrell’s price point was a big reason why budget drinkers seemed to avoid the brand, so would a cheaper alternative finally capture them?
What is Stellum Bourbon?
At the heart of all Stellum Bourbon is 5 year old MGP bourbon that Barrell had contract distilled. So many brands were rolling out 5 year old MGP bourbon at the time so it became obvious that Barrell would have to do something to set them apart from the crowd. Joe Beatrice and his team decided that they would blend in a bit of their vatted ~9 year old Dickel barrels and some Kentucky Bourbon (likely Barton) into the mix. Using these two extra components would guarantee consistency in the taste profile each and every time. However, Stellum Single Barrels would not have the Tennessee or Kentucky bourbons added to them.
Stellum retained the tradition of bottling their whiskey at cask strength just like Barrell Craft Spirits does with all of their products. That proof ended up being just a hair shy of 115. The price was set at $55 which was the going rate that other producers were selling their sourced, 5 year old MGP bourbon too. This price and proof point made it much more competitive in the eyes of the consumer.
Will this all be enough to separate it from the pack of other Non-Distiller Producers (NDPs) that have also flooded the market with 5 year old MGP bottlings? Let’s find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: Scents of Brown sugar and crème brulee give the nose an opening punch of sweetness that hints to its Indiana roots underneath. There is a nutty aroma much like toasted walnuts along with toasted orange peel too. For being somewhat young, I’m very happy to find seasoned oak and new leather scents as well. Overall the nose is very pleasing and hits all of the right notes for MGP bourbon.
Palate: Brown sugar follows from the nose onto the tongue. There are lots more baking spices that show up as well. Clove, anise, cinnamon and red pepper flakes show up to give the dram some heat and depth. Classic seasoned oak notes and a touch of leather and tobacco also can be found. There are some fruit notes like baked apples and orange zest that pair nicely with the small amount of mint that pops up. Very nice overall. Each sip has just enough heat to keep you on your toes and entertain your tongue.
Finish: More brown sugar finds its way to the finale, but I also get a bit of chocolate too. Pipe tobacco and charred oak remain but the finish is far from overly tannic. It’s actually very well balanced with sweetness. A menthol cooling sensation mixes with a bit of acidity from the lingering citrus notes.
I really like this Stellum Bourbon. It’s simple, yet it did everything it came to do. Had I not known previously about the KY and TN bourbon added into it, I would have assumed it was just straight up MGP bourbon. There may not be a better 5 year old version of bourbon on the market even though there are certainly cheaper ones that come close.
I dinged the Stellum’s rating a bit because I felt as if the nose was overly simple. But don’t let that discourage you because the palate and finish overdeliver. If you want to compare it to a Barrell Bourbon batch, it would come closest to Batch 022. That batch used only 5 year old MGP and 5 year old Barton in the blend. Granted, the proof was higher on Batch 022, but if you strip away the labels you have almost the same exact product. Barrell hasn’t gone that bare-bones in a while and I assume that with Stellum being a permanent addition to BCS’s portfolio, we’ll never see another Barrell batch blend together such young bourbon’s again.
As a final note, I’d recommend this bourbon to both novice and experienced drinkers alike. It has such a strong value proposition and should always be available wherever Barrell products are sold. If you believe in the blending abilities of the Barrell team, this one won’t let you down.
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