Ask a more casual or budget-minded drinker for their thoughts on Barrell Craft Spirits and the issue of pricing is all but guaranteed to come up. Even those in the more enthusiast-level crowd will utter similar comments. It’s the classic “weak value” versus “paying for quality” dilemma which only becomes blurrier as whiskey keeps growing. Case in point: Stellum Spirits. Introduced around this time last year, Stellum comes to us from Barrell founder Joe Beatrice, who highlighted a desire to bring “American Whiskey into the modern age with simple elegant blends and single barrels selected with care and intention.” Put another way, Stellum can be thought of as a more entry-level version of Barrell, so long as we don’t include the subsequently released Black versions.
Stellum’s initial bottlings were comprised of a bourbon and a rye, with the latter consisting of 95% rye from Ross & Squibb as well as “small amounts more barley-forward rye and choice barrels from both Kentucky and Tennessee.” Single barrel picks are also available for both the bourbon and rye which, in the case of the rye, is exclusively Ross & Squibb. Today we’ll be looking at the Serpens pick, which I tried thanks to a sample swap with a fellow whiskey fan.
Nose: Sour green apple Skittles upfront. Beneath that I get mint that turns into mint chocolate chip ice cream. Has a citric backbone that seems to fluctuate throughout. Maybe key lime pie to go with the Skittles? Either way, this is a wild and enticing nose.
Palate: Green apple, pepper, brown sugar, and toffee. Strong viscosity and spice component. Bit of dill with a slow-emerging lime, followed by more of that caramel/toffee note that I love, then spice before the finish kicks in.
Finish: A touch savory with mild pepper flavor. Almost salted toffee-like. Spice builds with sip. Lingering lime with Cherry Garcia ice cream slowly (but briefly) popping up.
Well threaten me with a good time!
The word that springs to mind with this Serpens pick of Stellum Rye is “wild.” Just from nosing I got vivid notes that I’d normally associate with less common whiskeys. There’s no shortage of Ross & Squibb’s 95/5 rye on the market, but this feels like an exemplary demonstration of what their stocks can provide. And that’s just based on nosing. When it comes to tasting, things take a familiar but equally stimulating turn. Citrus and accompanying fruit notes are bolstered by rich, toffee-like flavors with plenty of spice to keep the dram from feeling like a complete sugar bomb. In fact, I’d say the spice amply keeps up, to the point that it feels like the right level of complement, rather than detracting from the overall experience.
This particular bottling of Stellum Rye is almost precisely what I look for in an uncompromising rye. The nose gets me excited, the palate delivers the richness I yearn for in American whiskey, and the finish builds without going overboard in any direction. Considering the Serpens pick is strictly Ross & Squibb while the off-the-shelf version incorporates Kentucky and Tennessee distillate, I can’t say I’d blindly jump on one of those. However, this does get me interested in at least trying the blended variant and even more curious to explore cask strength Ross & Squibb ryes with a bit of age on them. Either way, don’t sleep on the Serpens pick if you have access to it.