If you’ve ever been curious about an American Express card, there are some basic levels. Green is for the average user. Above that is gold, then above that is platinum. And that’s it, right? Well, not exactly.
You see, beyond the platinum card that any peasant can apply for is something called American Express Black. This card is so exclusive that there’s no way to apply for it. The only way to get your hands on one is via an invitation, and you have to charge between $250,000 and $450,000 a year to maintain it.
Meant to give a similar aura of exclusivity is Stellum Black Label. You don’t need an invitation to get your hands on it, but it is pretty limited. Stellum offers both a Bourbon and a Rye, and in each case, they begin with the original stocks of Stellum and then “fold in” older whiskeys.
“For Stellum Black, we maintained the soul of Stellum while creating a new dimension of flavor by adding reserve barrels from our stocks. We’ve refined this layering technique over time which produces whiskeys focused on both immediate flavor and a long-developed complexity. The result is an entirely new set of whiskeys that has its roots firmly planted in the inaugural whiskeys.” – Joe Beatrice, founder of Barrell Craft Spirits
I’m reviewing both the Bourbon and Rye today. Like anything else out of Stellum Spirits or Barrell Craft Spirits, these are both cask strength whiskeys, both sourced from Indiana (MGP), Tennessee (George Dickel), and Kentucky (Jim Beam). Both have a suggested retail of $99.99. Unlike the standard releases, Stellum Black Label will be allocated nationally. Both are non-chill filtered.
Before I get started on the tasting notes, I’d like to thank Barrell Craft Spirits for sending me a sample of both in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Let's #DrinkCurious and learn all about these.
I’ll begin with the Bourbon. There are three MGP components: two are high rye with 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley, and the other 99% corn and 1% malted barley. The Beam and Dickel components are undisclosed, but they’re older than the MGP. It is packaged at 109.22°.
Appearance: Served neat in my Glencairn glass, Black Label Bourbon presented as caramel in color. It formed a thicker than expected rim and slow, lumbering legs.
Nose: An intense bouquet of cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, vanilla, and orange peel was enticing. As I drew the aroma into my mouth, cherry vanilla rolled across my tongue.
Palate: An oily, full-bodied texture greeted my mouth. At the front, I tasted vanilla, caramel, leather, and nuts. The middle transitioned to plum, coconut, and cocoa powder. I found tobacco leaf, cinnamon spice, and old oak on the back.
Finish: A very long, warming finish consisted of plum, nuts, orange zest, caramel, old oak, leather, tobacco leaf, and cinnamon spice. It didn’t even try to hide the proof, as my hard palate tingled almost immediately. However, the caramel stuck around the longest.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: It was reasonably easy to pick out the Beam component, but less so with the Dickel and MGP, which was shocking, especially considering how much of the blend was out of Indiana. But, the telltale nuttiness was also something I looked for, so perhaps there was some subtle power of self-suggestion? The more I sipped it, the less I felt the proof. It never became something that drank under its stated proof, but the numbing factor ceased and allowed me to concentrate on other things. I enjoyed this, and I could somehow feel this felt older than the Stellum Bourbon I reviewed last year.
Stellum Black Label Bourbon competes with its sibling, Barrell Bourbon, and they both cost about the same. I’m happy to toss a Bottle rating at it based upon that.
Next up is the Rye. The majority component is 95% rye and 5% malted barley from MGP. The smaller portions come from the others. It is packaged at 114.26°.
Appearance: Poured neat in my Glencairn glass, this Rye appeared as orange amber. It created a thinner rim that yielded slow, fat tears.
Nose: Caramel leaped from the glass and smacked me in the face. Beneath it were candied fruits, almonds, vanilla, and cinnamon spice. As I pulled the air into my mouth, orange cream danced across my tongue.
Palate: A soft, silky mouthfeel greeted my palate. The front offered very dark chocolate and creamy caramel. Mint, clove, and dill were on the middle, while dry oak, black pepper, and a vast amount of new leather were on the back.
Finish: I found the finish to build itself into a giant crescendo before plateauing, and then it just chugging along. Dark chocolate, dill, clove, and caramel started things off before leather and tannins came and left me making “thuck” noises with my tongue.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: It isn’t that often I come across a whisky that is so dry it sucks the moisture from your mouth. That’s a different sensation that, for whatever reason, always makes me go for another sip, which makes no sense because, in the back of my mind, I know it is going to dry my mouth again. Yet, the flavors are lovely together, and I enjoyed the extraordinarily long finish. A Bottle rating for sure, it is an experience worth experiencing.
Final Thoughts: Given the option between Bourbon and Rye, I tend to gravitate to Rye. In the case of Stellum Black Label, I enjoyed the Bourbon more. That’s not to discount the Rye; it was just surprising. I had to taste them both again just to make sure.
My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System
- Bottle = Buy It
- Bar = Try It
- Bust = Leave It
Whiskeyfellow encourages you to enjoy your whiskey as you see fit but begs you do so responsibly.