George T. Stagg 2017
George T. Stagg boasts a reputation as one of the premier bourbons in today’s market. Though a new version has been released each year since 2002, it is a perennial favorite.
This year’s release is only the third time that the barrel proof bourbon has clocked in under 130 proof (the only others being 2004 and 2013). Since 2002, each release has been at least 15 years old. This year’s is 15 years and 3 months, just one month younger than last year’s.
If you’re curious about the bottle’s namesake, the back of the bottle portrays a pioneer in the whiskey industry who, through a partnership with none other than Col. E.H. Taylor, Jr., began the distillery that is now known as Buffalo Trace.
It wasn’t all roses, however, for these two men. What began as a business partnership later resulted in contentious litigation and an eventual split (if you’re a fellow legal or whiskey nerd, check out Sippin’ Corn’s chronicling of this fall-out between Stagg and Taylor).
Rather than review the 2017 George T. Stagg in isolation, in true Flight Club spirit, we’re comparing this year’s release to our notes from the 2016 George T. Stagg. Additionally, we sampled the 2016 E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof side-by-side for another comparison (given Stagg and Taylor’s history, it seemed only proper that they should be paired together again).
But first, our review of the 2017 George T. Stagg:
2017 George T. Stagg (15 years 3 months, 129.2 Proof)
Nose: Fully of rich cherry oak; cinnamon sugar; caramel; strawberry and cherry; red fruit leather; vanilla; red hots; some qualities of a full-bodied red wine, almost like an old Merlot wine cork; cherry pipe tobacco; the ethanol is much tamer than expected.
Palate: A burst of flavors erupts from a thick, chewy mouthfeel; dark chocolate with red pepper flakes; red hots; salted caramel; cherry and strawberry; apple crisp.
Finish: Long and rich; the heat lingers with oak and light Tabasco; then transitions into a more creamy flavor with ground cinnamon that turns a bit bitter/tannic near the end.
After adding some water, the tannic notes on the finish dissipate a bit. The palate also turns slightly sweeter, with the cherry flavor becoming more dominant.
Robust, yet maturely restrained. This year’s Stagg is not as overwhelming as some previous releases, but delivers strong flavors throughout. Being more approachable, some people may favor this release. But in the end, none should be disappointed.
Overall: There is, admittedly, often some motivated reasoning at play when acquiring a bottle like George T. Stagg. You want to like it, you’re excited you got it, and so it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when gushing over its qualities.
But here, in as objective position as one is capable, this is just flat out good. Maybe even great. It is unquestionably robust, but shows some mature restraint. It doesn’t overwhelm like some of the previous “hazmat” releases, though those were enjoyable in their own right.
Because this year’s Stagg is more approachable, both in flavor and in quantity, some may favor it over past releases. But in the end, none should be disappointed.
Compared to last year’s notes, the 2016 George T. Stagg’s combination of cinnamon/red hots/cherries stood out much more compared to 2017. The heat was also quite different, with the 2016 Stagg containing a more sizzling quality than the 2017.
Now, let’s bring in Stagg’s old friend, Colonel Taylor, to see how it compares.
We previously reviewed the Col. E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof, but the following notes will simply be in contrast to George T. Stagg as tasted side-by-side:
Col. E.H. Taylor, Jr. Barrel Proof (127.5 Proof)
Nose: Almost dainty in comparison; mustier, with strong sawdust; light salted caramel.
Palate: Lacking the punch, it is much smoother on the approach, then slowly crescendos, though not peaking nearly as high; creamier mouthfeel; a much more herbal/minty quality; with water it becomes even more floral.
Finish: Noticeably sweeter throughout, it does not take that turn towards the tannic or leather notes. Not as long, but certainly not short.
An argument could be made that George T. Stagg got the better of Colonel Taylor back in the day (seriously, you gotta read that Sippn’ Corn blog post to get the back story). And here, as expected, Stagg outshines Taylor. Considering that these two bottles are much closer in price (at MSRP) than many would maybe expect, it’s no contest.
Good luck to everyone out there Stagg hunting this year. It’s a good catch if you can find it.
Stephen is a regular writer at FlightClubICT.com