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