George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 2016 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection – Review

*Thank you very much to AP and Buffalo Trace for the samples!


I wonder how many liquor stores dread this time of year. When all these highly allocated, even more highly sought after bottles are released, stores must get the full range of desperate assholes asking for all sorts of preferential treatment just for a bottle of booze. And then these stores must get the same desperate assholes howling like their firstborn was turned into a pot roast when they end up not getting the bottle of booze they thought they were entitled to. Yes, usually it’s very good booze, but still, it’s just booze, let’s try to have just a bit of perspective, shall we? Anyway, For those of you who are somewhat forced into selling these kinds of things, and have to endure these times, you have my sympathy. For those of you that turn a little cranky, get that glazed look in your eyes, and set your jaw funny at the prospect of the frantic, expensive, entitled hunt for what is just a bottle of whiskey…well, I don’t really care.

This year’s George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon differs from last year’s model in that 14 more barrels made up the bottling, and perhaps more importantly, less was taken by those greedy, drunk, thoughtless angels. In 2015, nearly 85% was lost to evaporation, but this year’s barrels lost “only” around 76%. It looks as if, the barrels did not come from as high up in the warehouses this year, as they did last year, perhaps that played a part…

btac2016_staggThe Nose:  I’ve said it before, I’ll say it now once again, in my book, the Geo. T. Stagg almost has the archetypal bourbon nose. The 2016 is no different, though man, does that high ABV take some caution. Beneath that heat lies complex sweet notes of brown sugar, maple syrup, orgeat syrup, juicy orange, and cherry cola. There’s sticky vanilla bean, oiled oak boards, and notes of Vietnamese cinnamon, sweet peppercorns, and soft clove. Well in the background are hints of caramelized banana, thin coffee, and tobacco leaf. The addition of water balances things a bit, and brings the oak and spice to the forefront more, toning down the sweet, but also losing a bit of subtle complexity.

The Palate:  Oh, it burns. A lush mouthfeel continues the sweetness from the nose with more cola and macerated cherries, brown sugar and lots of juicy, slightly pithy orange. At strength, this too quickly becomes very, very oaky and very, very grippy. I caught a glimpse of some baker’s chocolate, almond paste, and salted peanuts, but they were soon mowed down by the alcohol and wood. The oak is refined but so drying and tannic it’s nearly overwhelming. There are some sharpish spice notes of dried clove, nutmeg, allspice, raw ginger, and black pepper that manage to come through. A bit of barrel char struggles to be heard under all that wood, and tiny hint of burnt popcorn that emerges towards the end. Not even water can slow this oaky, tannic monster of the palate. It does balances things a little more and more importantly, makes it more drinkable, but it still remains unbalanced.

The Finish:  Longish but, again, too tannic. There’s lots of oak, vanilla extract, black pepper, and barrel char, with that same hint of burnt popcorn lingering.

Thoughts:  Oh, how the mighty have fallen. This started out with such familiar promise; a complex, strong, quintessential bourbon nose full of sugars and spice. The palate however, is just far too woody and drying. There’s a quick glimpse of complexity, but it just can’t stand up to the unbalanced surge of tannins and hard-edged spice. Water helps a little bit, but not enough. It takes a lot of water to calm this down, and by that time you’ve lost a lot of the complexity. A very nice nose dragged down by a woody, hot mess of a palate. If you missed out on buying one this year, don’t feel too bad. Not recommended.

George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 2016 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection

72.05% ABV…Holy fuck. That’s about 23.2% more ABV than I like to drink.

Score:  78


4 thoughts on “George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 2016 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection – Review

  1. Just a comment from an admittedly unprofessional, and somewhat unrefined bloke… What does “grippy” mean? Have you another word or phrase to describe this sensation. I just don’t know what to make of this description. Again, I apologize for being naive, and inexperienced.

    1. From one unprofessional and somewhat unrefined bloke to another…absolutely no need to apologize, that’s a very good question. “Grip” or “grippy” is probably better known as a wine term, but it refers to the taste, or more accurately, a feeling that the tannins create. In wine, those tannins can come from the oak used in maturation and/or the skins of grapes. In whiskey, all the tannins come from the oak the spirit was matured in. The grippy-ness created by the tannins is that drying sensation, making the inside of your mouth go from slick to rougher feeling. You can get a similar feeling from underripe bananas or black tea that’s been steeped too long. Does that give you an idea of what the term describes? All whiskeys are going to have some grip to them because all whiskeys have spent some time in those tannin-adding barrels. One of the dangers older whiskeys face is absorbing too much tannic grippy-ness from the barrels. It can be a matter of preference, some people like a lot of tannic structure to their whiskey, others not so much. I tend to not like whiskeys that are overly tannic and grippy, preferring more balance (oddly, I love wine with heavier tannins.) In this year’s GTStagg, I found the grippy-ness overwhelming, and even a little off-putting.

      Again, great question, thanks for asking!

      1. Ahhh. I am familiar with that ‘mouthfeel’ normally conveyed, to my mouth at least, by very ‘overly-oaky’ Bourbons. A term I’ve used (probably incorrectly) to describe this sensation is; ‘astringent’. If ‘grip’ or ‘grippy’ is a term recognized by more folx, which I assume it is, I shall use it myself going forward. Thanx for that explanation, sir!

      2. No, you’re right, astringency is the same kind of thing. I think there’s also a bitterness component that people associate with astringency, or at least I do, but I think it describes that same rough, puckering feel that tannins can give. Keep using “astringent” and dazzle folks even more by throwing in a “grippy” now and then!

        Thanks again, Richard, cheers!

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