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Buffalo Trace Antique Collection: George T. Stagg Bourbon Review

2010 George T. Stagg Bourbon, 71.5% abv (143 Proof), $70-$80/bottle

Color: Deep Mahogany

Nose: Rich and flooding with almond toffee, ripe banana, vanilla, sweet spices, popcorn, and a tangy sweetness of sorghum and molasses. A scant teaspoon of water to a 2 oz. pour ramps up the spices, dried fruits, and deep oak notes.

Palate: On the palate this bourbon just hits you with flavors in waves and it keeps on coming. Few whiskies can match it in that department. Deep dark sticky caramel, Rum Bananas, vanilla, Dried Dark Fruits, root beer, fudge, and intense sweet spices of cinnamon, clove, and mint are dominant when sipped neat. A teaspoon of water brings out the barrel flavors and rounds out the alcohol edge and heat.

Finish: Candied sweetness, smokey oak, and woody spices. Very long.

Overall: The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection produces five of the most highly anticipated releases each year. Finding them can be a real pain in the rear. Allocation of this stuff, particularly the bellwethers of the group, George T. Stagg and William Larue Weller, is frustrating. Both are huge whiskies at barrel proof, but certainly different. George T. Stagg is the leader of this pack. Some may argue Weller or one of the ryes (Sazerac 18 or Thomas H. Handy) are better, but I don’t think anyone would argue that Stagg is probably the single biggest bruiser of a whiskey on the planet. At 140+ proof, it packs a hell of a punch. Some may find it lacks a little grace and tact akin to taking a bazooka to a knife fight, but there is no arguing that it’s special. It’s also fun to sip a whiskey that is over 1.5 times the strength of todays more standard 90 proof offerings. But if that sounds like a novelty only, it’s not. George T. Stagg is is seriously fantastic whiskey. I’d recommend taking all the time you need and enjoy this one neat first. But for me, a splash of water helps to cool the alcohol flames enough to where those flavors shine even further. Don’t dilute it too much – after all you bought it for the beast that it is.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.6 (Epic classification)

46 Comments

  1. lawschooldrunk says:

    Nice tasting notes. For me, though, I find it surprisingly smooth with no alcohol “flames,” so I pass on the water. But definitely “don’t dilute it too much!”

  2. You are very right, it’s not too much. But for me, just a splash rounds out some of those edges a bit. Excellent stuff. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Greg says:

    Jason – Nice write up on the Stagg. For the first time ever in bourbon buying career, I passed on the 2010 release of BTAC. Most of them are excellent whiskey’s and for someone that doesn’t have any, I would recommend getting at least one of the barrel strength bottles. For me, I have a fairly deep bunker and that fact that the variance of each year over year is not that great prompted me to take a pass. Unfortunately, the price continues to increase each year and as consequence, makes it difficult to justify plunking down $80 a bottle in my market. I’ve got an ’07 and ’08 Stagg open right now and am satisfied with sippin on those.

  4. Greg, you bring up a great point. The Stagg is a great whiskey. It’s absolutely in the upper echelon. But what if you have recent releases on hand and would rather not divert your funds to the 2010 edition if it’s not a remarkable difference? Well I’d recommend you spend your money elsewhere. I cannot say there’s a great difference between this year and recent years.

    For those with none on hand and are real enthusiasts – this is a “must have” bottle.

  5. Texas says:

    Great review, Jason. I think you nailed it perfectly. Although I rarely drink the longer aged bourbons with ice, I find that one small ice cube works wonder in the Stagg. I love the fact that you can play around with different strengths and get such a wide variety of flavors. I like it neat also, but I have to be careful to make those sips tiny. I had a bottle of the WLW last year, while it’s very good I think the Weller Antique (which I like quite a bit more than you do) has a lot of the same flavors and character as the WLW..whereas there is nothing like the Stagg.

  6. JWC says:

    Great write up Jason. Like lawschooldrunk, I don’t think GTS is all that hot but I like to drink this one neat and with a few drops of water – brings out other flavors for me to appreciate. I agree that GTS is a “must try” for any whiskey afficionado. As for price, is $80 the MSRP? Fortunately in Texas, it’s still “only” $72 (big price increase from the original price). The Saz is $80 down here (fewer bottles of Saz than WLW or GTS). Having said that, I used to be a Scotch guy and I guess from that perspective, it would be unheard of for a Scotch equivalent (quality and limited availability) of the GTS going for $70-80/bottle. I don’t have the dusty collection that Greg has and don’t have as many great old bottles of other bourbon to rely on. Moreover, GTS’ current distribution is so limited and demand so great that I doubt few if any bottles will be available as a dusty in the future, i.e., buy them now or pay a premium later. So, my philosophy is buy them now. I did get one GTS semi-dusty last year =)

    With respect to where the GTS stands in the BTAC, I will say that about 8-10 years ago, the first few years of the BTAC, my personal preference would have been 1 – ER, 2 – Saz, 3 – WLW and 4 – GTS. This was the time frame when I was drinking mostly Scotch and wine. Now, I tend to favor bourbon and port and my preference (depending on the year) is 1/2 – GTS or WLW (depends on year and mood at the time), 3 – Saz and 4 – ER. As you so eloquently put it Jason, I guess I’m going for the obvious, in your face drinks now.

  7. The MSRP is $70, but when you review the internet and the shops that carry it, I’ve seen few, if any below $80. So that’s great you can get it for close to MSRP. I see your point too. If you have the means and look at it as ensuring your stock of fantastic whiskey that expresses what that year had to offer. And that’s just fun to look back on bottles years and years down the line, crack them open and compare.

    Of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) I think the GTS and William Larue Weller stand pretty close together at the top for me. The Sazerac 18 and the Handy fall in line from there. Eagle Rare 17 is the most inconsistent of the group for sure. And typically for me it lacks the sweetness and richness that I would prefer to see in a bourbon. To be fair, I’ve not had the 2010 release. John Hansell and others have declared it to be very very good. So I hope to have it soon so I can compare.

    Thanks as always for the comments and the great insight!

  8. Thanks for the comment Texas!

    -Jason

  9. JWC says:

    Jason, I agree with you about the recent inconsistency of the ER. As for the 2010 ER, it’s better than 2009 (not saying much) but still not as good as the 2008 (or some of the earlier releases). The 2010 ER is definitely below the 2010 WLW, GTS and Saz (in my opinion). The 2009 was just not very good. Definitely not worth the money. I bought 2 bottles of the 2009, finished off one bottle (kept giving it a chance but always disappointed me) and still have one bottle left that I regret buying. The 2008 ER was very good.

  10. Greg says:

    A tertiary reason is also the rate at which I consume the BTAC bottles. I probably have 8-10 bottles of Stagg from ’05 through ’09. I opened a 2007 January of 2010 and it’s still over 1/2 full. The big full proof bourbons are not a regular pour for me so I tend to consume those at a much slower pace. I just didn’t see the need to add another 5 bottles to the bunker. To your point Jason about diverting funds to other bottles of interest, that’s what I did in 2010. There were a number of small group barrel selections that I was involved with, so my shift in focus went to those over the distillery limited release offerings.

  11. Chris H says:

    FYI for those interested – in the past week or so I’ve passed on a couple bottles in FL and GA that were marked at $79.99

  12. Rajesh says:

    I was fortunate to acquire GTS 2010 for $70 — I’ve seen the rest of the BTAC priced around $60-$65.. think the WLW was listed at $63.
    It has gone up – I picked up a 2009 WLW for $ 59 last year…

    Greg,
    You mention that you’ve been “diverting funds to small group barrel selections” – might I ask what small group barrel selections ?

    Jason,
    Wanted to say – I really appreciate your blog posts – very informative – do you have plans for reviewing anything else in the BTAC for later this year ?

  13. Chris, thanks for the info man. Everyone take advantage of it!

  14. Rajesh, I’ve got a couple of review possibilities in the works. I pick and choose based on what’s new, what’s exciting, and then I vary it up based on levels of price so I can account for a wide variety of view in different budget ranges. So I’m working on the next 4-5 weeks scheduled reviews. I’ll see if I can fit in some other BTACs.

    As for what Greg is referring to, many times Shops/Merchants will purchase barrels from various distilleries. A great many have these programs. Well, there whiskey forums, clubs, and groups all over the net that will get people together and purchase a barrel that they all split up. Sometimes this guy knows that guy, who knows this other guy at a distillery. Through that networking some pretty rare and special barrels can be sourced. Once that barrel is bottled and they are all gone, they are gone. It’s fun to get a hold of these because you know that it’s the only barrel of its kind, and sometimes they are fantastic/special.

  15. Folks in Chicago, the Binny’s in the South Loop have Van Winkle 12, and the full range of the BTAC. If you are in there area, go grab some Stagg and Weller. Cheers!

    http://www.binnys.com/index.cfm

    -Jason

  16. Joseph Serapilio says:

    Hey Jason,As usual great review on the Stagg.Got a bottle of this and WLW for $70 each.Currently working on two barrel strength bourbons that are open in the cabinet,Booker’s&Four Roses 100th anniversary.When I get done with those.I’ll open the Stagg! Joe

  17. sam k says:

    Stagg is truly top shelf, but like you I drink it really sloooowly and I still have most of last year’s bottle. This year, being a one-bottle buyer annually, I got the Handy rye instead. Here in PA both can be had for $60, but the rest of the Collection is virtually non-existent. I’ve never had the privilege of trying the others.

  18. Michael says:

    I live in Brooklyn and we were fortunate to have a good number of stores receive some Stagg this year, but it’s all practically gone now. It and other BTAC bottles rarely go for under $90/bottle here, unfortunately… everything really is more expensive in New York City.

    Jason, I was wondering if you, or any of your readers, had tried Black Maple Hill’s whiskeys and, specifically, their 23 yr old rye? Just curious…

    Great blog – smart, down to earth, and enjoyable. Keep up the good work.

  19. Michael, thanks for the comments. I really appreciate it. This site is fun for me and allows me to talk about something I love dearly. I appreciate folks like you taking the time to comment.

    As for your question…..Black Maple Hill is actually owned by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers Ltd. That requires further explanation because KBD Ltd. doesn’t actually distill it. They have contracted it out to other distilleries along with Noah’s Mill, Rowan’s Creek, Johnny Drum, all of the Willett offerings, and numerous others. What’s interesting about the bourbon industry vs. the Scotch industry is about 8 distilleries product 90+% of the bourbon in this country. One company may have a recipe that they want distilled and contract out with XYZ company to do just that. Some, like KBD, actually have their own aging warehouses so they’ll step into that piece of the process. KBD bought the old Willett distillery and are working to get it back in operation if I am not mistaken.

    I have not had the BMH 23 Rye and would love to know what you think of it. I have had their 8 and 16 year old small batch bourbons and find them to be of excellent quality. I know that a number of large online retailers sell a hell of a lot of it. There’s a fantastic blog I frequent, ran by David Driscoll of KLwines.com, http://spiritsjournal.klwines.com/. Please check it out. David has mentioned a couple of times that BMH is their top selling bourbon – or at least one of them. I want to say another prominent online retailer, DrinkUpNY.com mentioned that BMH was their top selling bourbon also. In short – excellent stuff!

    Thanks again,

    -Jason

  20. Michael says:

    Jason, thanks so much for the info and KLwines link – what a fabulous resource. I knew BMH didn’t distill, but I wasn’t sure what the story was beyond that.

    I rather like the younger BMH bourbon as well – very heavy on the vanilla and cream soda – but have not had the 16 yr. It’s a small fortune for it here ($150). The rye is superb, and also expensive (and much more scarce now). It’s very dry, and the finish is amazing. You can immediately tell it’s something special, and somehow the age has not obliterated everything with its oakiness.

    One last question – have you sampled the Jefferson’s Presidential Select 18 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon? I saw a bottle for sale here and it looked of interest…

  21. The two Davids at KL do a great job. They know their stuff. I need to get a hold of that 23 year rye for sure. Sounds great and I love a great rye.

    The Jefferson’s Pres. Select 18 is excellent stuff. Some folks don’t think it’s as good as the 17 (which is the age bottled prior), but I think that’s splitting hairs. It’s awesome stuff, and i wouldn’t hesitate recommending it.

  22. Michael, you inspired me to purchased a bottle of the Black Maple Hill small batch this evening. It’s been a long while and a re-intro was in order. I did two tastings with it. One right from the bottle, which I usually do only as an intro to a whiskey. I never review/rate a whiskey on the first pour. The spirit is usually just too tight and needs time to open up. I would say the 16 is definitely a much better whiskey, as it should be at that price. This is solid whiskey. I noted a great deal of corn and smoky, dry oak character. The sweetness is sort of held in check by a real intense oakiness. There’s also an almost sour dough bread thing with some nice rye punch on the palate. I enjoyed it much more the second time around. However I would like to have seen more richness and depth to it. Again another reason why I don’t review a whiskey without a good 2-3 sessions with it. Typically it’s the later. I am going to spend some more time with the BMH small batch this weekend and will have a review as soon as next week.

    Thanks Michael.

  23. Texas says:

    Jason I received the Black Maple Hill Small Batch as one of my Christmas presents. I find that it reminds me of a Highland Single Malt a bit, I think the combo of the rye and the wood knock the sweetness down quite a bit, making it a little less bourbony for a change. I like that. Definitely different. To my taste, I taste a lot of butterscotch flavor.

  24. sam k says:

    Makes me wonder what other whiskeys would be like if they were served up at a very mature barrel proof, and I also wonder what Stagg was intended to be when it was originally distilled. It certainly wasn’t destined for a limited release bottling all those years back.

    Gotta love the intrigue!

  25. Amen Sam. WOuld be cool to see some of these beauties out there at barrel proof. I love that the industry is trending to higher proof a bit more. Fun for us that love ‘em! Cheers and thanks for the comment!

  26. Michael says:

    Ah, if only I could justify the price tag for the BMH 16 yr! This is one of those where I’ll have to sample it elsewhere and see if it’s up my alley, then make the decision. The younger, cheaper brother is still a go-to in our household.

    Incidentally, I was able to track down both the 17 and 18yr old Jefferson’s Presidential Select. The 17 is amazing – really similar to Pappy 15 at times, although not quite as robust or rummy. A beautiful whisky. I will compare the 18 at some point, and try to decide whether to go back and buy more of the 17, as I know there won’t be any more of it ever again!

  27. Yeah the whole money thing kind of makes it hard to get ultra expensive whiskey in our cabinet. Fortunately that’s why Bourbon is such a value. You can get great stuff and fantastic prices considering.

    And agreed, what a bummer that once Stitzel-Weller stock is gone, it’s gone.

  28. Chimay says:

    Jason, your site is very informative and I am learning about whisky through your site and a Michael Jackson book titled Whiskey. From watching your reviews I went out and bought a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel, and a George T. Stagg @143% not 141.4% so I tried looking on the web and found that the 2010 collection was 143% is your site incorrect or do I have a different year? I did not see a year on the bottle but will look again.

    Thanks in advance,
    Dennis

  29. Dennis, thanks so much for the comment. And you actually caught and error for me. The 2010 release is 143 proof and I have apparently copied 2009 bottle data when doing this review. I keep all my tasting notes on my computer and sort them out. For products that release annually I will just copy the previous years info on a new sheet, erase the notes and start anew. I didn’t do a good job of editing the data. I will correct that and thanks for keeping me on my toes.

    Have you tried either of the whiskeys? What are your thoughts thus far?

  30. Chimay says:

    Jason, I have tasted the Four Roses Single Barrel and was happy I did because it is loaded with aroma and taste. I will try to taste the George T. Stagg today. I also bought a pair of the Glencairn tasting glasses to go along with my old Michael Jackson Tasting glass which is stemware with a lid. I have been a Belgian ale fan for many years but have found a new passion in whisky.

    Dennis

  31. I just bought a bottle of the 2009 and find it extremely smooth and flavorful and sweet, despite the ‘hazmat’ nickname of some of the original releases (due to their high alcohol content).

  32. It’s great stuff indeed Augie.

  33. Brandon says:

    Just picked a bottle of this at my local store for $66, and can’t wait to try it. The ’09 was great. I just with they would have had more than one…..

  34. Enjoy Brandon. Let me know what you think!

  35. Greg G. says:

    Jason,

    I have 2 bottles of the 2010 that I found recently that I have yet to open and just found a place, while dusty hunting, that has 3 bottles of I believe the 2007 version for $54 a bottle. Any Idea on how they compare. Again, I am a newby to bourbons so I may be asking a silly question. I think I have seen comments on other sites to the affect that buying the lesser GTS is like buying the lesser Farrari, it still beats just about anything on the road.

    Greg G.

  36. Tough question. Racking my brain here I’d say it compares favorably. I would scarf at least one bottle up in a minute. Great value at that price!

  37. Jason, I just found a store near me that has both the 2010 and 2011 Stagg in stock. I’ve been searching for this for 6 months or so and I’m super excited to have finally found it! A question for you though, should I get the 10 or 11? Which one is generally regarded as the better Bourbon?

  38. Ryan, the 2010 version is excellent. I can attest to that – superb stuff. But here’s the thing – they are typically pretty consistent and really vary very little year to year. 2009 and 10 for example were both superb. John Hansell posted on his site that the 2011 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) was excellent this year and very much in line with last years releases.

    So I’d say grab that 2011 before they go. Then perhaps you can go back and they’ll still have the 2010. I’m afraid if you wait on the 2011 they might not have it for very long.

    As a note, i’ve not yet had the 2011, but looking forward to soon.

  39. Thanks Jason! Cheers!

  40. Anorak1977 says:

    Jason… looking forward to your review of the 2011 GT Stagg and how it compares to the 2010.

    Cheers!

  41. Thomas Fisher says:

    Stagg is something to be experienced, for sure. A bit too much bite for a regular pour, but certainly right there for a special occasion. As with any bourbon I drink, it’s done neat. I like mine cool, and so I have a dozen or so small soap-stone cubes that I keep in the freezer. They keep my libation cool, but never diluted. Now having read your notes on mixing just a scant bit of water to open up the taste, I will do so next time. I was unable to lay my hands on a bottle last year, instead, my friendly local merchant handed me a 12-yr. old Van Winkle. Horse of another color, but oh, my, what a ride. Here in Michigan, the ’10 bottle of Stagg was just over $60..

  42. Patrick says:

    How is the Stagg such high proof? If bourbon must enter the barrel at 125 proof max then how is possible that a finished product could be higher than that?

  43. Patrick, over time water can evaporate thus elevating the percentage of alcohol. Typically barrels aged on the extreme sections of the warehouse, closer to the outside heat (temperature) will see more evaporation of water.

  44. Patrick says:

    Thanks for the answer Jason! I always assumed that the alcohol % decreased over time in the barrel because a lot of the “barrel proof” bourbons I see are 105-125 proof. Maybe some makers cut the bourbon and still call it barrel proof.

  45. Josh says:

    Jason – just read your review on the FR SB LE 2012 that you rated at a 9.8. Unfortunately, it is unavailable/sold out in my area. In homage to your review though, I revisited my 2009 GTS. Honestly, I don’t know how a whiskey could have such this combination of dept, nose, texture, proof, and flavors?!? I am sure the FR SB LE has a different profile, but can it really be a better all around than GTS?!?

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