The next stop on the Buffalo Trace mash bill #1 tour features two members of the Antique Collection: George T. Stagg and Eagle Rare 17.
[For our final conclusions and links to the other Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #1 reviews, click here.]
Each fall, Buffalo Trace releases five highly allocated whiskies, which are perennially regarded as some of the best whiskey in their respective categories. The release features three bourbons (George T. Stagg, William Larue Weller, and Eagle Rare 17-year) and two ryes (Thomas H. Handy and Sazerac 18-year).
In addition to being two Antique Collection members, George T. Stagg and Eagle Rare 17 share something else in common – a portion of the barrels selected for release are aged in Buffalo Trace’s Warehouse H, according to the fact sheets for Eagle Rare 17 and George T. Stagg. Warehouse H is unique for its metal walls and steam heating system. The warehouse’s metal walls and heating system are meant to accelerate the aging process, thus producing whiskey that tastes older than it truly is. Warehouse H is also the aging location for every barrel of Blanton’s.
George T. Stagg
George T. Stagg’s namesake was a whiskey salesman in the late 1800s who teamed up with Col. E.H. Taylor to start the distillery that eventually became Buffalo Trace. The bourbon has been released each year since 2002. It has always been aged at least 15 years and bottled at barrel proof, oftentimes between 135 and 140 proof. It enjoys a reputation as being one of the finest barrel proof bourbons on the market.
The 2016 George T. Stagg was aged 15 years and 4 months and bottled at 144.1 proof. Though we were unable to secure a bottle from this past year’s release, we did (as frequently as we could) enjoy our fair share when visiting the Monarch in Wichita.
Review: As would be expected given the proof, this bourbon is a beast. The nose is full of cinnamon, red hots, and cherries. Though it was surprisingly drinkable neat for its proof, it is best enjoyed with a few drops of water. This helps tame the ethanol and opens up more of the cinnamon/cherry flavors, along with dark chocolate and coffee. The finish is long, with the cinnamon and red hot flavors sizzling with vanilla and caramel.
Due to George T. Stagg’s popularity, Buffalo Trace decided to release a bottle that could be more widely available – Stagg, Jr. As its name suggests, it is simply a younger version of George T. Stagg. While its precise age is unknown, Buffalo Trace claims Stagg, Jr. is aged “for nearly a decade.” And, like its father, it is uncut, unfiltered, and bottled at barrel proof.
Since 2013, batches of Stagg, Jr. have been released in the fall and spring of each year.
We previously reviewed Stagg, Jr. in a lineup featuring other barrel proof bourbons. It is, unfortunately, but a shadow of its father. Though not typically as high in proof, the heat nearly overwhelms the nose, palate, and finish. Adding water/ice helps to tame the heat, but it still clearly lacks George T. Stagg’s depth. That said, for those who may never be able to sample George T. Stagg, Stagg, Jr. offers at least some resemblance.
Stagg, Jr. would probably be more celebrated if it did not force the comparison to George T. Stagg. It is an unfortunate curse that many juniors have been forced to live with – carrying the burden of a name that yields unfair expectations. Nevertheless, this bottle is much more available, and at $50, is a good value.
Eagle Rare 17
Similar to the George T. Stagg and Stagg, Jr., the Eagle Rare 17-year is simply an older version of a more widely available bottle in the mash bill #1 collection, Eagle Rare. Though aged 7 years longer, Eagle Rare 17 remains 90-proof. It, and the Sazerac 18-year, are the only chill filtered members of the Antique Collection.
Because Eagle Rare 17-year and Eagle Rare’s only apparent distinction is the 7-year age difference, they create a unique side-by-side comparison. Again, because we could not secure a bottle of Eagle Rare 17-year, we enjoyed as many pours as we could at Monarch in Wichita.
If the George T. Stagg can be summed up as “robust,” then the Eagle Rare 17 would be summed up as “refined.” Though one might expect the oak notes to dominate in a 17-year old bourbon, this one does not. The oak is noticeably more present than the standard Eagle Rare, but is never at the forefront.
Review: The nose actually has a bit of an herbal tone, which is not found in the 10-year. The palate, also, contains almost a floral flavor, along with the 10-year’s cola and dark chocolate notes. It is also not quite as sweet as the 10-year. The finish is where the Eagle Rare 17 really sets itself apart. It is much longer and more complex than the 10-year, with more of the floral notes, vanilla, and sweet dark chocolate.
Our survey of Buffalo Trace’s mash bill #1 brands is nearing an end. We will wrap up the overview with the lone remaining brand – Benchmark.