By Richard Thomas
Strange as it may sound to most bourbon fans, but my first love in truly old bourbons wasn’t the esteemed Pappy Van Winkle, but George T. Stagg, so I always look forward to getting my hands on the latest installment of bearing that name so important to the distilling in Frankfort. Stagg is catching up with Pappy in terms of its prominence, so much so that Buffalo Trace released the Stagg, Jr. brand this year.
Like the rest of the modern George T. Stagg line, this is an uncut, cask strength bourbon. What comes out of the barrel is pretty much what goes in the bottle. This particular installment was distilled in 1997 (making it a 16 year old), and aged in Buffalo Trace warehouses I, K and Q, mostly on the lower floors. Coming in at 128.2 proof (64.1% abv), Master Distiller Harlan Wheatley said of this year’s expression that “the quintessential George T. Stagg taste is there – a big, bold whiskey that is easy to sip.” I have to agree with most of that, and it’s nearly as good as last year’s award-winning, much praised Stagg.
Big and bold indeed, in fact so much so that I found the boldness combined with the high abv a little overwhelming. Usually it’s a big alcoholic bite that compels me to put water in a cask strength whiskey, but that wasn’t the case here. Instead, the flavors were so bold they got in each others way and bowled me over. So, in went a tiny capful of water. That is the only thing that put me off a bit about Stagg 2013. Last year’s required water too, but it was much stronger. Past that, it’s excellent stuff.
So, with those drops in, the nose became a thing that was zesty with citrus (this being the aspect that overwhelmed my nostrils pre-water) and wet, sweet tobacco, creamy vanilla, and a little wood and earthy chocolate. The flavor only gets better from there, producing rich vanilla and earthy, leather wood flavors, backed by a bit of sweet spice and a dash of pepper. The finish stays with you for a good, long while, but even so goes with only a light touch of warmth.
Like the rest of the 2013 Antique Collection, George T. Stagg for this year should retail for about $70 a bottle.