Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: George T. Stagg

A good start to the week – my beloved Detroit Tigers won the first of three against the division rival (and division leading) Kansas City Royals yesterday afternoon, closing the pennant gap to one.  The Detroit Lions beat up on the New York Giants last night on Monday Night Football to kick a new season off the right way.  And the temperature here in Detroit leads one to think autumn is right around the corner.  My favorite time of year.

For this week’s Bourbon of the Week, however, I return to those dog days of summer.  I was fortunate enough this year to accompany my lovely wife on a work trip to Los Angeles back in July.  It was a fantastic trip, full of sun, beaches, wonderful entertainment and great food.  We got to see Chris Isaak (a favorite of mine) at the Hollywood Bowl, and take in a show at the Comedy Store, including Marc Maron and Ralphie May. But, while LA has all the glitz and glamour, there is one thing it is definitely missing: bourbon.

Now, that’s not to say I didn’t find some good times and good bourbon.  A visit to the Dresden made me feel like I was in Swingers, and three fingers of Maker’s Mark certainly helped with that.  But from establishment to establishment, it was more of the same: Jim Beam, Wild Turkey and Makers.  No Buffalo Trace, no Woodford, not even Knob Creek.  Finally, I went online to find somewhere in this sprawling expanse to procure a glass of something…special.  And sure enough, I found it, in Hollywood, of all places.

The bar is called the Township Saloon, and I will review the bar itself in the near future.  It’s a cool, hipster-meets-divey bar on Sunset, away from the Hollywood hullabaloo, and on that Friday night, kind of quiet.  Perfect for sampling one of the rarest of treats, because they had George T. Stagg.

For some reason, I have been unable to locate a bottle of GTS in Michigan, even third party, and Kentucky has fared me no better.  So I was excited to take a drink of this much respected and crowed about product for myself.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: George T Stagg
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: George T Stagg (photo from Wikipedia, as my camera stopped working that night!)

Some say George T. Stagg is the best bourbon made – another fine member of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.  It’s age varies (I have been told the 2013 was 16 years old), and it is a proud product of Buffalo Trace mashbill #1.

It has a very high proof – 129 on this bottling – so a keeping a little ice handy isn’t a bad idea, although I first tried it neat.  After all the raving I’ve read, I was looking forward to trying it.

The nose took me a minute.  Like most high proofed bourbons, the alcohol sears a bit on first blush, and should be given a minute to breathe.  Then, the world opens on this glass.  There was a dark sweetness to it, toffee and caramel, but not overwhelmingly so.  Plum, raisin peeked through, maple sugar, and a soft oakiness that was dry and had a hint of tobacco.

The taste was dark as well.  The toffee remained, along with an almost dark chocolate character. There was a hint of bitter, like coffee, before giving way to a wood that seemed fresh.  It is a strong drink, so I added a few ice chips, and found the sweetness seemed to dissipate a bit, while the oak and slight bitter remained.

The finish was surprisingly short for such an aged and high-proof pour, although I did get hints of cinnamon on the back end.

Did I enjoy it? Thoroughly.  Is it in my top five?  Well, not this years, but that just gives me a reason to try again next year.

Dan’s Rating: 8.8

 

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Stagg Jr.

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Stagg Jr.

It’s been a rough week over here at Baseball and Bourbon: I had my wisdom teeth out.  I won’t embellish, it didn’t go as poorly – or painfully – as some people had warned me.  But it wasn’t exactly fun either.  Most saddening was the fact that I was advised not to drink bourbon while my jaw recovered.  The one saving grace was that it gave me the perfect excuse to rest and watch the NCAA tournament all weekend.  So with a congrats to the Dayton Flyers, as well as Michigan and Michigan State, this week’s review is of a new favorite of mine.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Stagg Jr.
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Stagg Jr.

Now, I have no been lucky enough yet to get my hands (and taste buds) on a pour of George T. Stagg, try as I may.  I’ve been able to hunt down glasses, if not bottles, of almost all of the other Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, but the GTS eludes me.

That said, I was fortunate enough, when in Kentucky, to get my hands on a bottle of Stagg Jr, the newer offering from the BTAC.  Aged 8-9 years (unlike the 15+ GTS is bottled at), but coming from the exact same mash bill, ‘unfiltered’ and ‘uncut,’ it pours at a barrel strength. My bottle shows a 136.6 proof, or 68.3% alcohol.  Potent.

What I really note about the Stagg Jr was how my opinion changed over three months, and three different tastings.  I first had the Stagg Jr. in December at a bourbon event at the Wine Garden in St. Clair Shores.  There I found it too brash and even harsh.  Two months later I tried it again at a local whiskey bar, and found that I enjoyed it much more, and found it much more complex.  Last week, for review purposes, I tried it again, and came to trust my second, rather than first impression.

The nose: Make no mistake, like any barrel proof, that first sniff will be a burn.  Give it a minute to breathe, and you will note a burned-sugar-toffee, vanilla, charred oak and some spiciness.  The sweet notes – vanilla and toffee – strengthen as it site, too.

The taste: Again, let’s not kid – that barrel proof is a kicker.  It has a thicker mouth taste than I expected, but I could taste very strong influence of charred oak and rye spiciness.  A hint of brown sugar, but the sweetness gave way to the spicier hints of cinnamon, pepper and oak.  It didn’t knock me back, but I found it smoother than anticipated, without ice.

The finish: It has a burn, a good solid one.  Notes of spice hold out along with the taste of wood and subtle sugar sweetness. A little dry, as though there were tannins, on the throat.

My take: Personally, I like Stagg Jr.  Looking around online, it seems the biggest drawback Stagg Jr has is not being George T Stagg.  Maybe I will feel that way when I’ve had the GTS, but for now, I find this to be a nice, strong drink.

Dan’s Rating: 8.4

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Eagle Rare 17 Year-Old

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Eagle Rare 17 Year-Old

The explosion of bourbon popularity has led to many things: one one hand, there is a massive array of new, innovative and exciting brands and makers growing larger by the day. On the other hand, many products are harder and harder to find.

Another one of the advantages is the number of bourbon, or whiskey, themed bars popping up.  Here in Detroit, where the bourbon does not flow as freely as in Kentucky, this can mean a connoisseur (or at least a well read poseur) has a possibility of trying a spirit that would otherwise remain unavailable to them.

Last week, my fellow musician/bourbon-loving friend Jeremy Porter mentioned a bar that had opened in my neck of the woods and had a particularly noteworthy collection of whiskeys:  The Butter Run Saloon is St. Clair Shores, Michigan.  A quick look at the website caught me off guard – 84 different bourbons.  An amazing selection, even more surprising that it happened to be in the relatively sleepy burb I grew up in.

Butter Run Saloon: 84 different bourbons
A bourbon list of note – Butter Run Saloon: 84 different bourbons

Partially, my surprise was in my notion of what kind of bar would host such an elaborate selection – at least here in Detroit.  I shuddered while images of skinny-jeaned, ironic t-shirted hipsters gleefully threw down this week’s leftover vintage bicycle money on glasses of Pappy Van Winkle while discussing the day’s English Premier League scores and the latest London Grammar release.  This was not the case, in fact, it was almost the polar opposite.

The bar is a quiet, working class pub style restaurant/bar, that just also happens to have an amazing selection of bourbons (as well as over 100 scotches).  It serves good burgers, good onion rings, and Angels Envy Cask Strength (?!?).

Since there were a good number of drinks on this list I have not had the ability to hunt down for myself, I decided to try one that has been on my list for some time.  A big fan of the Eagle Rare 10 year, it seemed a good idea to try the Eagle Rare 17 Year-Old.  I was not disappointed.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Eagle Rare 17 Year-Old
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Eagle Rare 17 Year-Old

I love Eagle Rare – partially because I love the variations that I have gotten from this straight bourbon, but have not been able to get my hands on a bottle of the 17 Year, hard as I have tried (and I have tried, believe me).  With a glass in my hand, it was everything I love about the 10 year, but even more.

My take: The nose of this glass was deep, and incredibly complex and varied.  At first, I could make out fruits and a bit of spiciness. Baking apples and cinnamon, raisins and orange peel.  A charming array that slowly, as the glass opened, turned into warm leather and oak.

The first sip surprised me – it had a silkiness to it, and the smoky oak taste, but it wasn’t harsh at all.  Rather, it was gentle despite the tannin, and not bitter at all.  Raisins and almond were there before a soft leather presented itself upon the long finish.

To me. this was a magnificent drink.  Full of character and flavor, but not too harsh or biting.  Smooth, but not weak.  A top five, to be sure!

Dan’s Rating: 9.3

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year

T-minus two days until I head to Louisville, KY with my lovely wife for the Bourbon Classic.  I could not be more excited – and I will be posting updates all weekend as I partake in all the bourbon culture this weekend promises.  Plus, I will get to escape the Polar Vortex madness that has settled on the great lakes!

For those curious, the Bourbon Classic is a (now) annual convention/conference/event bringing together distilleries, writers, speakers, master distillers, chefs, mixologists and just about anybody else interested in bourbon for a two day event in downtown Louisville.  This will be my first time going, so I am ready for a weekend of learning about and thoroughly enjoying all it has to offer.

With such a fine event on the horizon, it seemed the best time to pick a sure thing for my bourbon of the week.  And today, that means none other than the legend itself, Pappy Van Winkle. In this case, the 15 year.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year

 

I won’t waste your -or my – time recapping the Pappy Van Winkle story. What I will do is review this elusive bottle for those who, like me, have had a *difficult* (read: impossible) time procuring the drink. Hopefully, it can help someone decide for themselves – is it worth it?

When I say “worth it,” I am referring to the hunt for Pappy, or to pay the increasingly higher prices enthusiasts find when searching. For taste alone, I’m not sure ANY bourbon is worth the hundreds of dollars PVW commands. Many of those who are dropping hundreds of dollars for this, or any other rare whiskey, are doing it more for the prestige of having the bottle in their collection than the taste or quality. But that does not mean that PVW does not have those things. It actually has them in spades.

My take: I’ve had the PVW 15 before, and have actually had this bottle for a year and a half before reviewing. Most notably, I had it at Buffalo Trace Distillery at a Pappy Van Winkle tasting event last year, where I sampled the 12, 15, 20 and 23 year. For my taste profile, the 20 year was best (a little smoother, a bit more stately) but many say the 15 year is the perfect bourbon, and I can see why.

It’s nose is unparalleled. At 107 proof, you expect the bite of alcohol, but won’t find it here. Instead, a sweet mix of cinnamon and honey, maple syrup, honey and a bit of sharp oak comes forth. I held the glass to my nose again and again, absolutely in love with its aroma.

The first sip is sharp – the charred oak mixes with a delightful caramel and it’s creamy texture almost separates on your tongue. There is that sweet thick vanilla caramel on the front, and toffee. In the back, the cinnamon pours out, with more oak and a husk spice that is unique in a wheated bourbon. It’s not harsh, but rather, smooth and strong. Clove and more oak come forward if you hold your sip a bit longer.

Then the finish – very very long and warming. Still smooth, but with warming oak flavor and the lingering of caramel.

I found waiting between sips made it even better. The second didn’t catch me off balance, and the sweetness increased with each subsequent sip, the sugar mingling with that smoky oak char.

Did I love it? Yes, even more this time than before. I can’t in good conscience leave it out of my top five, although I still prefer the softness of the 20 year. Is it worth $500 a bottle? Again, I’m not sure anything is. But a glass at a bar is worth the asking price, and if you have the means, you won’t regret it from the taste.

Yum.

Dan’s Rating: 9.1