*Thank you very much to AP and Buffalo Trace for the samples!
Let me just point out right away that, although it might be a good one, the name George T. Stagg is not that of porn star. No, George T. Stagg was successful whiskey salesman who, in 1870, helped E.H. Taylor purchase a distillery originally built in 1812 by one Harrison Blanton. They named the distillery “O.F.C.” after its original name, “Old Fire Copper” and proceed to make a number of significant improvements until 1878 when Stagg bought out his partners share. The distillery was re-named the George T. Stagg distillery in 1904 and ultimately was re-named the Buffalo Trace Distillery in 1999.
First appearing in 2002, the George T. Stagg releases have always been un-cut, unfiltered, straight-from-the-barrel releases, renowned for their exceptionally high quality, not to mention their exceptionally high alcohol content. Along with the strikingly high proof (142.6), another incredible stat about this whisky is the amount lost to evaporation over the years, nearly 58%. After maturing in new American Oak for 18 years and 5 months, the 2011 version was pulled from 124 barrels to make up arguably the most well-known and revered expression of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.
The Nose: An unmistakably “Bourbon” nose, this could almost be the baseline standard for all of Bourbon-hood…though the rest of Bourbon-hood doesn’t have this much menacing strength lurking behind it. Butterscotch and vanilla, fried bananas and buttered popcorn, cola and bright cinnamon, roasted salted nuts and a light dusting of cocoa powder. The mashbill is nicely laid out with hints of corn oil and faintly pickled rye spice while smooth worn leather and polished oak show off the years in barrel. A nice bit of water brought out more cocoa and even a bit of coffee. It just softened and smoothed out everything, losing none of its complexity.
The Palate: ***Cough***…gasp…”Wow”. A juicy, cherry cola sweetness opens with a wave of candied nuts and cocoa powder heralding the fast moving wallop of the terrifyingly (not really, but kind of) high alcohol content. Deep, spicy wood notes move in, earthy vanilla, cinnamon and clove, with big, dusty, drying tannins that threaten to overwhelm the proceedings but stop just short, allowing the early sweetness to shine through. Water is definitely needed, the high ABV is a fun experience to be sure, but the palate really benefits from a little H20. Again, without losing any of its complexity, water takes some of the edges off, calms things down, and just broadens and deepens the whole experience.
The Finish: Still juicy and yet still very tannic. Loads of cinnamon and orange spice linger with dusty, slightly charred traces of the oak dwindling away. Just a touch of mint towards the end.
Thoughts: A tremendous whiskey. My expectations were sky-high for this one based on its reputation over the years and they were met, though not in a way I…expected. So many of the flavors were ones I usually associate with bourbon that it’s really not a distinctive flavor profile that makes it great. Instead it’s the assembly of these flavors, the progression, the way it showcases the ingredients, from the mashbill to the barrel, that sets it apart. Tasting it raw, un-filtered, and full strength is certainly impressive, but adding water really makes it shine, expertly revealing all the ingredients more slowly and with more depth. George T. Stagg is not an experience to be missed in the whiskey world. Highly, highly recommended.
71.3 % ABV…SEVENTY-ONE POINT THREE PERCENT ALCOHOL BY VOLUME for god’s sake. sheeeesh.