George T. Stagg is a name that will make any bourbon fan’s ears perk up like a soon-to-be-walked dog. It is arguably the most popular expression in the collective beast that is the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC), thanks in no small part to its high proof, age, rarity, and quality. Enter any bourbon community and you’ll inevitably find folks declaring it their dream bottle. I should know, I’m one of them. Even before I got to try any year of George T. Stagg, it was high on my radar thanks in large part to Buffalo Trace’s Craft Your Own whiskey section of their website. What can I say? Marketing works on industry newcomers.
Although I’m not big on whiskey backstories, the history behind George T. Stagg and, more specifically, his relationship with Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. is one of the more curious to find out about (this post from Bowtied and Bourboned goes into detail about it). So much so that I’m honestly surprised the Civil War veteran had this premium bottling named after him. Regardless, we’re here to talk about the whiskey itself, and I was fortunate enough to try a sample of last year’s bottling from a fellow whiskey fan. I’ve also had the chance to try the 2017 and 2018 bottlings before this, both of which are similarly excellent in my book. Time to see how the most recent iteration stands up:
Nose: Deep and dark; rich oak and cherry. Toffee, dark brown sugar/molasses…Riesen candy. Barely burnt dark caramel notes with breezes of vanilla extract and a touch of gasoline. Heavily candied (and marinated) orange. Swirling releases more fruit and vanilla. Layers upon layers of the same notes…I could smell this all day. After sipping, I get brown butter and cherry pie. Decadent caramelized dark brown sugar. Did I mention big caramel and vanilla?
Palate: Whoa. Positively thick, viscous, and coating. Perfect rich sweetness upfront with some heat on the back, but stops short of being too much. Seemingly endless layers of cherry, vanilla, and caramel. Orange, oak, and brown sugar. Remarkably balanced. Drinks its proof in regards to richness, less so in regards to heat.
Finish: Sweet and smoky oak. Big, warm, and toasty caramel and vanilla combo. Cherry residuals trickle throughout. Long and enduring.
Okay. So…this whiskey got me all kinds of emotional; excitement, bliss, vindication, sadness, anger, sadness again, you get the picture.
The 2017 and 2018 pours I tried were already fantastic, but this 2020 sample goes even further. I have difficulty taking notes because the whiskey checks everything I look for in a high-quality dram. If you recall from my review for Bardstown Bourbon Company’s Discovery Series 4, I was momentarily caught off guard before slowly returning to some form of composure. This leaves me completely disarmed; it makes BDSM look like counting pennies, by comparison. The notes I do manage to discern are typical of most quality bourbons and, on their own, don’t sound all that interesting or impressive. Yet this is in-line with the other George T. Staggs I’ve tried, since they’ve offered more depth than complexity. What separates the 2020 offering is how tangible the various layers of each flavor are, as well as the balance of said flavors. It’s an acute reminder of how difficult it can be to describe whiskey outside of the individual notes. Think of it like experiencing the most euphoric desserts you’ve ever had all at once, but with regards to the collective sensation rather than the jumbled together taste.
I don’t need to tell you that I absolutely adore this stuff. Easily in my current top 3 pours of all time. What’s a bit less straightforward is the cost discussion. The question I ultimately have to ask is this: How much is a potential GOAT worth to me? To date, the most I’ve spent on a single bottle of whiskey is $200. That same bottle is my current all-time favorite, with this being the closest anything has come to dethroning it. Could I justify shelling out even more for what is not only an amazing whiskey, but also my dream bottle? I wouldn’t rule it out, but I’d definitely need to take a shower after the fact in hopes of feeling less dirty over the transaction. Perhaps it’s a relief then that local stores and secondary ask for more than twice that for any George T. Stagg, because at that point, the decision has already been made for me.