Nose: Burnt wood, caramel, and a hint of vanilla. There's alcohol with some burn, but it's surprisingly mild on the nose for the proof. I had to inhale more deeply than anticipated to pull out what I did here.
Palate: Caramelized wood and burnt brown sugar take the forefront bringing some sweetness into play. Dry wood and leather oppose the sweetness, while a hint of dark chocolate brings everything together. The alcohol creeps up after a moment rather than hitting you right up front, spiking mid-palate with Stagg’s well known cinnamon spice. After the spicy kick it dries out quickly getting woody and tannic leading into the finish.
Finish: The tannic bitterness transitions back to sweet. Caramel and burnt brown sugar come into play once again. The alcohol burn lingers in the back of your throat, which hides the flavors a little bit in the finish. It warms your chest in a good way, but not as much as expected for the proof. Medium to long finish overall.
Uniqueness: Five years ago barrel proof bourbons were less common than today. Because this has become a more popular trend, George T. Stagg has quite a bit more competition when it comes to robust, “straight-from-the-barrel” proof monsters. Despite this, Stagg still maintains a unique flavor profile amongst the competition. Maybe a better question is “How unique is this year’s Stagg compared with prior years?”
To answer that question, I poured some 2012, 2013, and 2014 for a Stagg vs. Stagg vs. Stagg showdown. The result surprised me. 2012 is almost perfection. It’s textbook Stagg flavor profile with all the barrel-char robustness you might envision. 2013 stands apart from the others with a more unique profile which I actually picked blind out of the three. Finally our bourbon in review, 2014... unfortunately it takes a backseat to the previous releases in robustness of flavor. It’s still a top notch bourbon, just not quite as "wow" as the past two years when sipped side by side. 2012 dominates as my favorite of the three - a robust and traditional Stagg that is everything you could ever want it to be. 2013 wins out for uniqueness and fullness of flavor, although I prefer the 2012’s profile by comparison. This is just a matter of preference because 2013 is also outstanding - there's quite a nose on it too. 2014 presents a drier, woodier, and less full flavor profile than both of the past two releases making it my least favorite when sipped side by side. It’s essentially a tamer, oakier version of the 2012 release, which might appeal to some. Keep in mind this was a full-on technical tasting. Sipped on their own it’s more difficult to pick out these nuances and some may prefer 2014’s flavor profile over the past two years.
Value: Like the rest of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection you can’t go wrong with Stagg. It’s a must buy at $80 and even worth paying a little more if you need to. A $10 increase in MSRP over last year seems fair. We estimate around 10,849 bottles will be released this year, which is miniscule considering those bottles need to be shared among everyone worldwide. Check out our 2014 BTAC Fact Sheet for full details on this and the rest of the BTAC collection.
Overall: George T. Stagg is a beast of a bourbon. It consistently makes many enthusiasts’ list of favorites for the year, mine included. Despite the growing competition in the barrel proof arena, when you’re thirsty for Stagg it seems there is no other bourbon that can quench that thirst. I’m not always in the mood for it, but when I am, I really am. This year’s Stagg is no exception. Although I did a fairly technical comparison with 2012 and 2013 versions and found 2014 to have the least powerful flavor profile, it is still a top notch bourbon and Stagg fans will not be disappointed.
To sum it up: Maybe not the biggest “Staggy” beast, but still a beast of a bourbon worthy of its name.
-Nick - Reviewed: 1/2015
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