By Richard Thomas
When Buffalo Trace releases its Antique Collection every autumn, for many a bourbon lover it is the George T. Stagg that is the thing to watch. This only makes sense when you think about it. When I was a teenager and living within sniffing distance of the distillery, it was named for George T. Stagg.
Indeed, for some bourbon fans Stagg eclipses even the fabled Pappy Van Winkle, which is a good thing for them since it is also usually a little easier to get as well. That is especially the case this year, or at least it should be, since this stuff reportedly comes from right around the time Buffalo Trace racked up more of the bourbon meant to become Stagg.
This particular Stagg was distilled in 1996 (16 years old) and comes from selection of barrels drawn from warehouses C, H, I, K, L, P, and Q. Uncut and unfiltered as always, this monster bourbon was bottled at a potent 138.1 proof (69.05% abv).
Although usually I try even strong cask strengths undiluted, just to check and see if they are good to go on their own, I know Stagg well enough to not bother. I reached straight for the water and put in half a dozen drops. I could tell from the scent wafting across the room as I let it breathe that it had too much of the werewolf in it to go without a little water.
The color is deep, royal amber, and by that I mean a color fit for the Tsar’s Amber Room.It’s dark, but with a certain gorgeous jewel-like quality, just like the body of work of any of the great Russian authors.
The aroma is thick with caramel and dried, dark fruits like raisins and figs. Yet hand in hand is a balancing and quite crisp note of wood.
The palate is where the big pay-off is with this bourbon. The liquid reveals more complexity, with a toasty oak underlaid by spices like ginger, cinnamon, cloves mixed into a concoction of vanilla syrup and chocolate syrup.
The finish was a moderate one, and somewhat understated compared to that taste, but the warmth just goes on and on. This stuff will be perfect right between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
So how does this Stagg measure up against past installments? Clearly, but only slightly better. They have all been “A-” bourbons for me thus far, but this one is a full point higher than the others.
Barring retailer mark-up, you should be able to purchase George T. Stagg for $80.