George T. Stagg and the dirty glass
Last night I went out to dinner with my wife and mother to Root Down in Denver, Colorado. If you have never been, Root Down just might have the best service of any restaurant anywhere. They also have some innovative food that my wife loves but also a killer bourbon list so she never hears me complain about having to eat red beat couscous.
George T. Stagg (GTS from here on) is produced by Buffalo Trace and is only released with the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC). Bourbon doesn’t get much more popular than George T. Stagg and it is in the running for the top American whiskies of the year, every year.
GTS is probably best known for being a heater, a monster high proof firewater of a bourbon. This bottle of 2012 weighs in at 142.6 proof, almost 50 proof points higher than what I consider a normal proofed bourbon and is aged 17 years. GTS is one of the hardest bourbons in the country to find because of the consistent quality and super complex flavor profile. GTS is only released once a year and there are way more buyers than sellers.
With that said, finding it in stock in a liquor store more than a day or two after it is released is a pipe dream, finding it in stock at a bar in May is a miracle! I will eat beat infused dates and squash based yogurt falafel all day long as long as I can wash it down with any BTAC I choose. Root Down is a bourbon drinker’s oasis disguised as a significant other’s date night.Rumor: Stagg Jr.
GTS is uncut and unfiltered which means whatever is in the barrel ends up in the bottle. There is quite a bit of oil from the oak that is usually chill-filtered out which can make the juice cloudy and leave streaks on the glass. The service at Root Down being so proficient, the manager from across the room spotted that oil and after considering that resin might possibly be a dirty glass, he grabbed me a new pour with an extra ounce for the inconvenience. Then, after we found out it was a new pour, I assured him that bug nor band-aid would keep me from drinking the original pour and I will pay for it, dirty glass and all to keep it from being dumped out.
He brought back the old pour in a new glass free of charge, leaving me with what looks like 5 ½ ounces of 142 proof GTS to finish before the check came. My wife assures me I had a great time and with service like that, how could I not have?
Color: Dark cherry syrup, or a really heavily brewed tea. Swirl it and you see layers of color and the texture is obvious as the juice hangs on to the side of the glass.
Nose: Rich combination of oak, cinnamon baking spices, and fresh caramel and toffee candy. Vanilla and some fruity sweetness is second fiddle but the layers of GTS just keep coming. Think of a boardwalk candy shoppe.
Sip: Great thick mouthfeel. There is 2-4 seconds before the burn so you can get quite a bit before you pay for admission. That candy shoppe from the nose is here with the rich caramel and toffee candy in the front and spicy cinnamon, pepper and sharp oak in the mid and back palates. There is some smooth molasses, rich cherry and banana in the end.
Finish: GTS is one of the first bourbons I ever noticed chocolate in and the 2012 definitely has that a nice rich chocolate in the finish. The caramel wins out on the vanilla and fruit, red hot cinnamon and oak finish up a great finish.
Pretty smooth finish considering how much heat is in the bottle but it will leave a considerable tingle all the way down that warms you up.
Swirl: No saying how long this bottle was open. The air mixing with the juice probably already did its job.
Overall Grade: A+
I personally think bourbon does not get much better than George T. Stagg. I know that is cliche, but good is good. Even my wife enjoys GTS. It is the only bourbon she will drink willingly, and somehow it is the only bourbon she drinks that doesn’t make it look like her eyes are trying to eat her face.
GTS has all of the standard bourbon flavors that we all love but also has immense layers that never seem to end and can’t be replicated. That depth allows each person to taste a plethora of different things. GTS can also be cut to tastes which give the drinker a different pour every night and extends the length of the bottle. Every year, GTS seems to the king of the BTAC so there is no reason to think the 2013 is going to be any different.See how to cut high proof bourbon here
I recently reviewed Elijah Craig Barrel Proof and found some similarities, but after having GTS so soon after the ECBP review, I quickly noticed that GTS offers quite a bit more depth in the profile. GTS year in and year out seems to make bourbon that no other distillery can touch.
Drink this, not that: This entire section will be based on the premise you can’t find George T. Stagg and the accepted principle that nothing is better than Stagg.
If you can find Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, I really think it is a great way to bide your time until the fall. It is equally as thick, 4 proof points shy of GTS with tons of the rich chewy candy flavors, thick oak and high spice. It lacks on the fruit and chocolate, and intensity of the other flavors isn’t up to snuff, but if you can find it, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof at $44 is a decent Stagg substitute.
Willett Single Barrels are barrel strength as well. They are on the shelves if you know where to look and they are almost always worth the money. If you can find a 10 year (give or take 4), you will have a pretty good high proof bourbon on your hands. Don’t look for it to match Stagg’s heat, as most of them are around the 110 proof range, but you get a highly complex and worth while bourbon with the Willett Single Barrel Bourbons.