*Thank you very much to AP and Buffalo Trace for the samples!
For those looking for a little history and background on the always-hard-to-find George T. Stagg, please check out my review of the 2011 release. For those hoping to waltz into any old liquor store and find a bottle of the 2013 George T. Stagg, please consult a snowball to see what they think about spending any amount of time in purgatory or lower. For those trying to figure out a way to get a bottle of the 2014 George T. Stagg, start spending lots of time and even more cash at your favorite well-stocked liquor store, find a really fantastic oatmeal-raisin cookie recipe and perfect the making of said cookie, seek out the spirits buyer at the aforementioned well-stocked liquor store, ingratiate yourself to that spirits buyer and bring them lots of cookies (it’s a dirty little industry secret that spirits buyers love oatmeal-raisin cookies). Maybe, just maybe, if you play your cards right, spend lots of money, and make a really good cookie…you might just get the preferential treatment needed to secure a bottle in 2015.
The 2013 edition of the George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon has been perhaps the most talked about member of this year’s Antique Collection. Since 2005, the ABV of this mythic bourbon has exceeded 70%. The barrels that made up the release have long been matured in the more dynamic climates of the upper reaches of Buffalo Trace warehouses, and the whiskey considered the big, menacing king of the yearly bourbon releases. Switching things up a bit, many of the barrels that made up this years batch were matured on lower floors (less dynamic climate – not as hot, not as cold), which resulted in a lower ABV and a more approachable profile. At 15 years and 11 months, this year’s Stagg was also a little younger than recent editions.
The Nose: Muscular and rich, but lacking some that brooding menace I usually think of George T. Stagg having. Big notes of warm caramel, vanilla bean, and nutty, slightly burnt toffee. Behind that are touches of cherry cola, spiced orange, and fried banana, as well as earthy cinnamon, scraped leather and a good bit of sawn oak. Any rye in the mashbill is pretty faint on the nose, but there’s a nice dollop of creamed corn to show off the main grain. Adding water doesn’t add much to the nose, a little more banana and orange perhaps, it mostly just rounds off any rough edges, relaxing it a bit.
The Palate: A delicious, juicy, cherry cola and cinnamon red hots opening is followed by dark, semi-sweet chocolate and roasted, salted almonds. A big, tannic wave of toasted, oak-y cinnamon and sweet clove, vanilla bean, and fine ground white pepper rolls in but this is a decidedly less overwhelming palate than in years past. As with the nose, the addition of water doesn’t add much to the proceedings, but it doesn’t remove any of the complexity either. The volume is simply turned down, especially on that big spicy wave towards the end.
The Finish: Medium-ish, a little quicker than I expected. Peppery and tannic, with more spiced orange and hints of barrel char trailing off at the end.
Thoughts: In a way, this is a tough one to call. This is definitely a George T. Stagg, in fact, I was shocked to see how similar my notes were on this one to the 2011 version I reviewed. However, the 2013 didn’t have that huge, almost overwhelming power that earlier versions have had. It was fairly drinkable at strength and an absolute languid delight with water, whereas the other versions I’ve tried have been much more “confrontational” whiskies. I’m sure people will say that this one doesn’t quite live up to higher ABV Geo. T releases of the past, but taken on its own, as it should be, it really does prove to be a terrific whisky. With a near textbook bourbon flavor profile, excellent structure and balance, and just enough complexity to keep things interesting, this one might not be the George T. Stagg that people have gotten used to, but it is without a doubt a pretty fantastic bourbon. Highly Recommended.