On October 6, 2021, Buffalo Trace announced the details of their hotly anticipated Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) for the year. What made this particular announcement so noteworthy was the news that there would be no George T. Stagg. Per the New York Times article that first brought this development, master blender Drew Mayville mentioned the barrels filled in 2006 “didn’t match the taste profile we expect from Stagg.” The previous day, esteemed whiskey reviewer Fred Minnick uploaded a video where he highlighted five available whiskeys that either top or match each BTAC expression.
Since then, many have taken to voicing their thoughts, ranging from frustration to suspicion and even outright apathy. Two of the more common and vocal views I’ve seen are that this doesn’t change whether multiple people will get a bottle of George T. Stagg in the first place, and that there’s more to the story than Buffalo Trace are letting on. Jay West (aka t8ke) of Whiskey Raiders said, “I have an extremely hard time believing Buffalo Trace would scrap the most well-known entry in its annual Antique Collection when it could instead offer a smaller yield—which would increase hype on its own.” Meanwhile, Jason Callori of The Mash and Drum mentioned on a stream that “Buffalo Trace is very serious about the quality of their product, I don’t think they’re gonna rob Peter to pay Paul.”
This isn’t the only time Buffalo Trace have made a splash in 2021. Netflix’s Heist series highlighted the infamous “Pappygate” scandal from 2013 in a pair of documentary-meets-reenactment-style episodes. The series was generally well received, although the “Pappygate” episodes did draw the occasional suspicion of product placement in disguise. More recently, Buffalo Trace posted a video where golfer Jason Kokrak “hunted” bottles that the distillery produces, including Eagle Rare, E.H. Taylor, Blanton’s, and more. The video was swiftly taken down after drawing much criticism from its viewers. Also worth keeping in mind are the developmental updates on Buffalo Trace’s $1.2 billion expansion in an attempt to meet the still-growing demand of American whiskey. Whether you’re excited or fed up, people are absolutely paying attention to Buffalo Trace.
As if on command, prices for bottles of George T. Stagg have shot up in response to this latest development. BTAC is considered the undisputed peak line of American whiskey for many drinkers, and as the industry welcomes more fans than ever, it proportionately invites more demand. The Buffalo Trace distillery is home to an overwhelming number of brands, yet many whiskey fans bemoan the apparent reality of struggling to find their celebrated bottlings, whether it’s a rare release like E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof, or something more mid-tier like Weller Antique. Such circumstances aren’t exclusive to Buffalo Trace either; Jim Beam’s highly acclaimed Booker’s bottlings have gone from around six releases per year for $50 each to four batches per year (three in 2020) with a price hike to $90 or more; word on the street is that Jack Daniel’s celebrated Single Barrel Barrel Proof may become an allocated product; and Michter’s Master of Maturation Andrea Wilson said “we continue to struggle to meet demand on all of our whiskeys.”
These examples and more paint a seemingly dismal picture, which is particularly frustrating for folks who grew accustomed to previously available products. It wasn’t even 10 years ago that I could find Eagle Rare sitting on most store shelves in Florida. Now it’s become so sought after that local stores will charge up to $100 for a fifth when the same bottles used to fetch little more than $30 each. Were things as they used to be, Eagle Rare would almost certainly be my go-to whiskey.
George T. Stagg’s cancellation for 2021 almost feels like a retread of what happened to Eagle Rare in my home state: harder to find and way more expensive. MSRP for a given BTAC bottle is around $100 or so, but even before this news broke, demand skyrocketed to the point that a single bottle would command over $1K, be it from local stores or the infamous secondary market. This effect has spread throughout the industry, and we whiskey fans drink it up, thereby driving up the demand and, consequently, the average asking price.
Yet this spike in demand brings with it a spike in options. Bourbon continues to experience unprecedented growth thanks to newly heightened interest. For every bottle that a shopper may not see in this current market, a couple others (or more) exist just waiting to be tried. Whiskey is also going through an experimental boom, seen with the recently revitalized interest in rye and Irish whiskeys, the use of various cask finishes, unique malting techniques, and more. Factor this in with a newfound acceptance for craft distillers making their own mark and perusing a store’s whiskey selection can be downright intimidating.
As a result, many bottles simply sit on shelves and never gain so much as a thought from a considerable chunk of shoppers. Many will walk into stores simply asking for Buffalo Trace products and if a given store doesn’t have those specific bottles, they’ll walk out empty-handed. This absolutely extends to BTAC bottles, particularly George T. Stagg. Between this ongoing history and what’s likely to ensue for future releases, those who already struggled to find George T. Stagg aren’t exactly bound to obtain a bottle in the near future without paying an even more exorbitant sum.
So what’s a wistful drinker to do?
Speaking personally, I’ve found one of the most rewarding aspects of whiskey as a hobby is simply trying something different. A large part of what makes the industry’s explosive growth so engaging is the aforementioned experimental boom. This has offered up numerous options for those searching for a new daily drinker while exploratory consumers can feel like techies at a Microcenter when shopping the likes of Total Wine, Liquor Barn, and Luekens. Instead of lamenting the loss of a single heavily allocated bottle for one year, I invite defeated drinkers to branch out; explore other bourbons, other distilleries, other whiskey categories altogether. Who knows? New favorites may be found that just sit on shelves and get passed up time and time again. None of them may quite be the same as George T. Stagg, but that’s also where the true fun in the hobby often comes from.