It was 8am on November 23rd, 2013. I was one of the first people to enter my local Total Wine and I was on a strict mission: leave with a bottle of the coveted George T. Stagg Bourbon. I accomplished my mission successfully on that beautiful Las Vegas morning, all it took was a lot of phone calls, placing my name on countless waiting lists, coming into the office an hour late and a little under $100 but I was unrepentant. To most people, this sort of dedication seems absolutely nuts and quite obsessive; I, however, like to call this “passion,” or at least that’s what I tell my wife….
In 2014, I was not quite lucky enough to procure a bottle of George T. Stagg, but I did stumble across a couple bottles of this Stagg Jr. which I’ve been hearing about. At half the price, I figured, “why not?”
For those of you who are bourbon fanatics, you likely have tried or at least heard of George T. Stagg Bourbon before. It is, in my opinion, even more difficult to obtain than Pappy Van Winkle, and for good reason. Luckily for us, the fine people over at Bufallo Trace have created an alternative: Stagg Jr.
Stagg Jr. is an appropriate name for this bourbon due to its maturity, or lack thereof. George T. Stagg is typically aged for 15-16 years and stands tall at 140 proof (70% ABV). Stagg Jr., on the other hand, is made up of a blend of bourbons which have been aged for 8-9 years and stands just shy of George T. Stagg, ranging from 128-134 proof.
Although it is a limited production bourbon, Stagg Jr. is released multiple times a year with a higher availability than George T. Stagg.
ABV: 64.35% (128.7 Proof)
Aroma: The aroma provides a beautiful complex bouquet of dark red fruit, toasted oak, cinnamon, alcohol, and a touch of caramel.
Flavor (Neat): Initially, the Stagg Jr. really blasts your palate with black pepper, malt, and toasted oak with hints of molasses and oats on the finish. Stagg Jr. is powerful and unforgiving all the way.
Flavor (W/Splash of Water): Once just a bit of water is added, very little changed, beyond the burn being dulled a touch. I left it to sit for several minutes before revisiting it, which should be noted. Once the Stagg Jr. had some water and air, there were a couple notable differences. Firstly, some subtle notes were able to present themselves, such as vanilla and dried cherry.
Overall Impression: Full bodied and full flavored yet immature and unbalanced. The 128 proof is a nice change from the original 134 proof in terms of flavor, but there is still a lot of room for improvement if this will continue to bear the Stagg name.
Closing Thoughts: The lack of balance is the killer for this bourbon. Don’t get me wrong, I love a full bodied, high proof bourbon, but if it’s not well balanced, or balanced at all, there is little to love about such a bourbon. The flavors are pleasant once you are able to overcome the forward heavy heat and spice, but for the price, there are so many other amazing bourbons which are readily available, such as the Colonel E.H. Taylor Single Barrel or the Elijah Craig 12 year barrel proof. Although the 128 proof is a drastic improvement from the 134, it does not begin to hold a candle to George T. Stagg. I do hope and expect that future releases will continue to improve on the original. Worth a try? Absolutely! A substitute for George T. Stagg? Absolutely not.