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