By Richard Thomas
I first noticed whispers of a new “Stagg bourbon” in whiskey circles more than a year ago, and now it’s finally here in the form of Stagg, Jr. The idea is to create a new limited edition expression along the same lines as the classic George T. Stagg, except that the bourbon is eight or nine years old rather than well over 15. The new Stagg, Jr. is due on store shelves in August, but The Whiskey Reviewer was fortunate enough to receive an advance sample for this sneak peek.
In common with its older forebear, Stagg, Jr. is an uncut and unfitered bourbon, and in this 2013 expression that means it is a potent 134.4 proof (67.2% abv). Also in common with Stagg the Elder, this younger rendition is a big and bold cask strength that requires a little water to bring out the best in it.
The color in the glass is a bright, shining middle amber, and lovely to look at. In a snifter, the nose carries a rich vanilla and caramel scent before the powerful alcohol overwhelms it and bites into the nose. Snifters tend to burn the nose in a deep, sustained sniff anyway, but Stagg, Jr.’s youth and high proof count kick your nostrils with even a light dose, and in my book that strongly suggests the need for a splash of spring water. With a little home cutting, that hint of a sweet, floral citrus note I caught before the burn was heightened, and the alcohol kick greatly reduced. It didn’t take much, so don’t over do it.
On the palate, Stagg, Jr. explodes with flavor: a zesty citrus tang, bourbon spiciness mixed with vanilla, and hefty, moderate oak in balanced, equal measure. It’s not subtle or complex, but it’s certainly yummy. The finish is much more restrained, imparting a mild, lasting warmth and leaving a light vanilla and oak aftertaste.
I am sometimes asked by readers what the point of a cask strength whiskey is if you must add your own water to enjoy it, as will probably be the case for most with this Stagg, Jr. Shouldn’t the distillery have cut the whiskey themselves? I sympathize, since I take all whiskey below 120 proof neat, pretty much all of the time.
What a bourbon like Stagg, Jr. allows you to do is cut it to your own taste, so take advantage of that. If I pour 50 ml of Stagg, Jr. into my snifter, the amount found in a typical airline mini-bottle, and cut it by only 1/5, the alcohol is still a hefty 107.5 proof. I didn’t add anywhere near that much water, and found exactly what I wanted from it.
The recommended retail price for Stagg, Jr. is $49.99, so beware of retailer mark-up.