George T. Stagg is considered one of the world’s greatest bourbons. There is something about that Buffalo Trace Mashbill #1 that carries those iconic skyscraper proofs better than just about any bourbon or rye out there. While previous releases have flirted with flammable (the 144.6 proof 2007 release), the 2013 George T. Stagg (GTS) is a modest 128.2 proof. This makes the 2013 GTS only the second time in the fourteen releases that it has dropped in to the 120’s, and nine of those fourteen have been 140 proof or higher. Ouch.
To be honest, 110 to 120 proof is about where I have been dropping my GTS to in the last few years anyway. Partly for conservation, and party to round off those sharp edges. While the early releases carried an uncommon level of refined depth that was incredibly detailed amidst such a high proof, the last five or so years have lost a touch of that refinement. Since we are talking about the cask strength bourbon, that is kind of like calling a race car too fast since some hard edges are expected with higher proofs, but if you have had a pour of either of the 2005 GTS releases, you probably know what I am talking about.
This year’s George T. Stagg is about 16 years old, and hails from lower levels of Buffalo Trace’s I, K, and Q warehouses. It is about $70 to $80 if you can find it on the shelf. Colorado is releasing their allocation this week (13 November, 2013), so if you don’t have your name on a list or know where to be at what time, you are probably out of luck for this year. Luckily, there are about a dozen whiskey bars in the state that will have the entire BTAC lineup, so you won’t be completely empty handed. You will just have to share.
The 2013 George T. Stagg
Nose: Everything you could want to nose from a bourbon is right here. Chewy caramel candy, vanilla, dark fudge, bananas foster, cinnamon, and some pipe tobacco and that sweet maple syrup. Perfectly sweet and balanced.
Sip: Great thick, oily texture. Loads of sweetness, just as the nose indicates. Chewy caramel, brown sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, and banana round out a fantastic front palate. The sweetness transitions quickly to deep char, peppery oak, some sharp rye, tobacco, and a full spice box. The flavors come and go with very little burn at all, but the back end can’t quite keep up with the big upfront sweetness.
Finish: Far more fruity than either the nose or the sip. The banana and some berries linger long after with some of the vanilla, a young corn, and some classic rye spice.
Overall Grade: A
Peer Reviews Drinkhacker: B+
While there is nothing surprising in the profile, GTS executes every bourbon quality with near perfection. Only a few bourbons consistently ring out with every quality of a classic bourbon, but GTS is one of them and the 2013 is no exception. Very little gets lost in the high proof, and this one can easily be sipped all day long at the bottled proof.
The nose and the sweet profile is epic, and the balance of the sip is as good as just about any cask strength bourbon out there. The back end is a bit sharp, and the finish seems to be far younger than 16 years old, but when you are picking through the depth, and enjoying this world class nose, the shortcomings seem almost inconsequential.
It is hard not to hold some form of negativity towards this year’s BTAC release because of the increasingly low odds of finding a bottle, but with how expensive this year’s releases have been, a bottle of GTS for $79 seems like one of the best bargains all year. There is a lot to be excited about if you get your hands on a bottle, so if you are too far back in the line to get a Pappy, don’t feel defeated if you only go home with a Stagg…
Drink this, not that: There is an increasing number of high quality bourbons out there that boast cask strength, but few have the age to go with it like GTS.
Wild Turkey Rare Breed is a no brainer for an every day cask strength pour, but is probably about half the age and that shows in the profile when they are side by side. For bout $30 more, Booker’s is a wonderful high proof bourbon, but the profile lacks quite a bit of the depth, refinement and overall enjoyability as the GTS.
If you are in or plan on visiting Kentucky, the Elijah Craig 12 Barrel Proof that is sold out of the gift shop at Heaven Hill could easily take GTS a full 12 rounds, and the wheated counterpart to Stagg, William Larue Weller, is a worthy BTAC opponent for any Stagg fan.
While there is no replacement for a bottle of GTS, these four will do in a pinch.
Though the Four Roses Limited Editions and some Four Roses Single Barrels are cask strength, Four Roses just doesn’t have the facilities to produce a high proof, dark, caramel filled bruiser like GTS. The Four Roses will surpass GTS in spice, subtle fruit notes and for some, even overall drinkability, but they are two different animals. The Four Roses Limited Editions come with my highest recommendation, but they pack a different kind of punch.