Around this time last year, I tried Stagg Jr. for the first time. It was a procured sample of batch 13 that I split into two separate pours, mostly to double-check my thoughts. By the time I finished my second pour, I frustratedly declared it my favorite whiskey. Fast-forward a few months and several pours of new whiskey (to me), and the throne once claimed by Buffalo Trace’s bi-annual barrel proof beast was overtaken. Multiple times. Despite this, Stagg Jr. remained a high priority bottle for me to hunt and eventually acquire. If I haven’t made it abundantly clear through my previous posts, I’ll say it here: Florida sucks for obtaining Buffalo Trace products. It’s to the point that finding Stagg Jr. for anything less than $100 could be called a grand victory. I did manage to snag a bottle of batch 13, but will save my complete thoughts on it for a separate post.
Today we’ll be focusing on the second batch of Stagg Jr. to cross my path: A sample of batch 14 sent by a fellow whiskey fan. The proof comes in at just over 130, which puts it right on the cusp of “water recommended” territory for me. Although Stagg Jr. batches come without an age statement, Buffalo Trace’s website claims they’re aged “for nearly a decade,” so they likely reside in the oft-agreed upon ideal age range for bourbon. Can lightning strike my palate twice for the younger Stagg family member? Let’s see:
Nose: Earth, citrus, and oak. A little savory—molasses perhaps? Nutmeg with some cinnamon and pepper. Fruit skin to include cherry and grape. Dark brown sugar with a corn syrup and salted toffee syrup. Just a touch nutty. Dark caramel latte with a splash of cream.
Palate: Oak and bitter cocoa, maybe tobacco? Burnt caramel and brown sugar with some wisps of vanilla. A bit of cherry. Some citrus on the back to go with the aforementioned bitter notes. As a non-smoker, this begins to remind me of what flavored cigarillos smell like. Adding water is recommended.
Finish: Again with the oak, building up some toasty vanilla, caramel, and brown sugar notes. Like having an overbaked, barely salvaged batch of cookies or blondies with caramel mixed in.
This is odd; batch 14 feels like a considerably different beast compared to its predecessor. I even poured a bit of batch 13 after writing most of my notes to check my sanity. My feelings were confirmed: The experience here is dark, bitter, and positively oak-forward. So much so that I struggle to pull out contrasting notes, leaving me with an experience that feels fundamentally similar to Calumet Farm 14-Year, just with way more heat. There’s plenty to digest, with my favorite part being the finish, since some of the more pleasant flavors I like to find in bourbon finally begin coming into their own. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough to elevate batch 14 higher than something I might appreciate slightly more than I enjoy, and I’m not sure if I can call myself a fan of this batch.
As underwhelmed as I am by Stagg Jr. batch 14, I ultimately walked away with one thought in my mind: I wish this had been my first exposure to the brand. My reasoning? It all comes back to what I said about obtaining Buffalo Trace products in Florida. Had this been my introduction to either of the Stagg lines, I may have had a shattered illusion type of experience, especially considering George T. Stagg remains my current dream bottle. Even so, batch 14 has made me reconsider keeping Stagg Jr. on a pedestal. Perhaps a full bottle would let me see this batch in a different light, but I’m not exactly holding my breath.