*Thank you very much to AP and Buffalo Trace for the samples!
By this point, you either were lucky enough to get a bottle George T. Stagg or you weren’t. If you weren’t lucky initially and ended up getting a bottle anyway, then you have quite a bit of disposable income. This year, stories about ridiculous prices on the secondary market for bottles like the George T. Stagg were unfortunately matched by ridiculous stories of price-gouging on the retail market. I don’t begrudge a shop adding a bit to the suggested retail price because the annoying feeding frenzy that occurs around bottles like this has to be an incredibly crappy thing to deal with. But there are stories of retailers doubling or even tripling the suggested retail price of $80, and well…that just seems pathetically wrong. Then again, If I owned a liquor store and knew that I could get some idiot to pay two, three, even four times as much for a damn bottle of booze, I’d probably do it, too. After all, I’ve got mouths to feed. Supply and demand – grab what the market will bear. Simple capitalism, baby! America, you can love it or lump it, you damn commies.
Well crap, I got so worked up now I don’t even know where I stand on the issue, if it’s even an issue at all. The 2014 version of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection’s George T. Stagg was a bottling of 161 barrels that came from all over place, six different floors of seven different warehouses. Aged for 16 years and 4 months, a whopping 74.81% of this whiskey was lost to evaporation. This year’s Stagg is back up to nearly 140 proof, up roughly 7% from last years relatively tame version.
The Nose: I think of the George T. Stagg releases as having a quintessential “bourbon” nose. This year’s is no exception, though perhaps even more aggressive than usual. At strength, you get it all at once, burnt sugar, orgeat syrup, the caramelized top of a banana creme pie, brandied cherries, pithy orange and a little toasted coconut. That sweeter end is balanced by dusty, laying-on-the-forest-floor oak, toasted oak chips, corn oil, earthy cinnamon, vanilla bean, a whisper of peppery rye, and a bit of clove. Adding a little water adds maybe a bit more citrus and rye, but mostly it just takes the edge off a bit.
The Palate: Oh, it burns. Anybody who likes to brag about drinking something this high-proof straight is just a chest-thumping moron. Along with the initial cherry cola, brown sugar, vanilla bean, and orange rind, there’s a big hit of oak upfront that pretty much just hangs around until the end of time. Salted nuts and baker’s chocolate lead to much more peppery, grainy rye than the nose offered. Towards the end, another big wave of charred oak is joined by hot cinnamon, earthy clove, and slightly burnt popcorn. Mixing in a little water really makes this shine. It’s still rather feisty, but water holds the oak back some, allowing the other flavors to come through and progress a little more leisurely.
The Finish: Long and still a little hot, with pleasant lingering oak, sugary cola, cinnamon, a bit of popcorn, and a hint of mint and ginger.
Thoughts: Wow. A great bruiser to be sure. If I found last years to be a kinder, gentler Stagg, this years is back to being an in-your-face, chest-hair growing roundhouse kick of a bourbon. I found this to be rather oaky all the way through, though for the most part I thought the rest of the flavors did a great job of balancing out all that wood. The nose is strong and complex, and the challenging palate turns wonderful with water. An excellent, monolithic bourbon that’s perhaps a bit wild and hot at times. I have to say, I’ve enjoyed previous editions more. Nonetheless, a worthy addition to the legend. Definitely recommended.