It has been pointed out to me a number of times recently that we are currently in a golden age of American Whiskey. There is just an awful lot of good stuff out there, borne aloft by a flood of interest and expertise.
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Among my recent favorites are the bourbon and rye from Stellum Spirits, which calls itself “a new national brand created to celebrate the modern-day whiskey drinker.”
Which is to say, it’s made for you and me.
Stellum is the offspring of Louisville’s Barrell Craft Spirits, which was my most exciting discovery in the whiskey space last year. I don’t know how their business is faring, but someone there really knows what he or she is doing. The origins of their stuff can sometime seem a bit murky—it’s all blends, with the origins only pencilled in—but I pick them up wherever I see them.
Here’s what they say about themselves:
“Barrell Craft Spirits, based in Louisville, Kentucky, is an independent blender and bottler of unique, aged, cask strength sourced whiskey and rum, recognized for its blending expertise. We design, produce, and launch Spirits with a focus on what people want now and not what has been successful in the past. This affords us access to some of the most interesting and delicious spirits in the world.”
The proof, of course, is in the glass. You can fool some of the people, and so forth—but their raft of awards is well-earned.
Both the new Stellum products are high-proof (the bourbon bottled at 114.98, the rye at 116.24) and go for $55. I enjoyed the bourbon quite a bit, a blend of three Indiana mash bills that scans spicy and a little candy-sweet (the company’s tasting notes detect “marshmallow,” and sure enough there it is, at the front of the tongue).
But for me the real star was the rye. The description on the Stellum website goes a long way toward explaining my delight: “The identity of Stellum Rye is rooted in a tried and true 95% Rye Indiana mash bill. To enhance this classic style, we incorporate small amounts [of a] more barley-forward rye and choice barrels from both Kentucky and Tennessee. This brings a full, round mouthfeel and flashes of buttery sweetness to an otherwise spicy and tightly focused Rye Whiskey.”
Those “flashes” make this rye stand out for me. So often, high-proof ryes will make your eyes water with spicy anger. This one achieves abundant fruit on the nose and palate (Peach? Apple? A touch of citrus?), a savory white-pepper power, and an overall balance that’s rare.
I enjoyed it neat, and likely would have finished the bottle quickly were it not for an imminent visit from an old friend whose explorations of rye far outdistance my own. His take would solidify my own, or beat back my enthusiasm.
I suggested rye Manhattans. He agreed. Only I knew that a test was at hand. I made the drink, slowly and properly, and didn’t make a fuss about what I was offering. Served it in an antique coupe.
He took a good swig, then another, and without breaking the conversation flow, gave me the same look that Winston Wolf (Harvey Keitel) gives Jimmy (Quentin Tarrantino) after he tastes his host’s coffee, in Pulp Fiction. The raised eyebrow of approval. An impressed aficionado.
And that settles that.