Stagg Jr. – how does it compare to George T. Stagg?
This is a question that has been asked since Stagg Jr.’s first release in 2013.
The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection sets a high standard. Its five members, three bourbons and two rye whiskeys, are each in high demand following their annual release. Because the vast majority of whiskey enthusiasts are unable to acquire one, it is seemingly natural for replacements or substitutes to be recommended as quasi consolation prizes.
So, when the calendar turns to the new year and it becomes clear that any chance to obtain one of the Antique Collection’s bottles appears to be nil, attention naturally turns to the junior versions.
Can’t find George T. Stagg – try Stagg Jr.
So, how close to these substitutes come to measuring up to their superiors? In the case of Stagg Jr. Batch 9, some think that the gap may be as narrow as it has ever been in recent memory.
George T. Stagg and Stagg Jr. are both distilled from Buffalo Trace’s low-rye mash bill #1. Each are bottled are barrel proof using a blend of multiple different barrels of varying age.
Speaking of age, other than warehouse location, the age difference between George T. Stagg and Stagg Jr. is the biggest separating factor between the two. Since its first release in 2002, George T. Stagg has always been at least 15 years old. Stagg Jr., on the other hand, is non-age-stated. Buffalo Trace’s website states that it is aged “nearly a decade.” Various websites claim the age is around 7-8 years.
Shortly after its debut, Buffalo Trace has only released George T. Stagg once per year in the fall. Since its debut in 2013, Stagg Jr. has been released twice per year – once in the spring and once in the fall. So, while variations of George T. Stagg are simply referred to by their release year, Stagg Jr. has been assigned batch numbers by the public. Though the bottles themselves do not bear a batch number, the following table serves as a reference for matching a bottle’s proof with its particular batch:
Batch #1 — 134.4 Fall 2013
Batch #2 — 128.7 Spring 2014
Batch #3 — 132.1 Fall 2014
Batch #4 — 132.2 Spring 2015
Batch #5 — 129.7 Fall 2015
Batch #6 — 132.5 Spring 2016
Batch #7 — 130.0 Fall 2016
Batch #8 — 129.5 Spring 2017
Batch #9 — 131.9 Fall 2017
Batch #10 — 126.4 Spring 2018
Since its release, Stagg Jr. Batch 9 has been well received. So much so that it has been much more closely compared to George T. Stagg than prior releases.
We received this news with some skepticism. Our consensus experience with prior releases of Stagg Jr. was that it was brash and disjointed. While it did have some interesting qualities, those were overwhelmed by the alcohol burn and heat. To compare it to George T. Stagg seemed unfair and unwarranted.
So, could Stagg Jr. Batch 9 really serve as a comparable substitute for George T. Stagg? We decided to taste them side-by-side to find out.
Stagg Jr. Batch 9 (131.9 proof) (NAS, according to Buffalo Trace “almost a decade”)
Nose: Cinnamon sugar; brown sugar and other baking spices; caramel candy; cherry and strawberry fruit leather; some leather; some salt and pepper; fig newtons; some orange peel; lacks the cardboard note from some of Buffalo Trace’s younger products; also not so heavy on the red hot candies; there is a burn that’s more harsh than the Stagg Jr. that makes it less approachable than the George T. Stagg. The most enjoyable nose of a batch of Stagg Jr. in recent memory, but still definitely a step behind George T. Stagg. 3.5/5
Palate: A rush of heat at the forefront that is also a bit thin/watery, though not as sizzling as previous batches; ground black pepper and red pepper flakes; cinnamon sugar and brown sugar; fruit leather, which mixed with the mouthfeel, makes for a chewy back-end to the palate; the heat does not shroud the palate as much as past batches. 3.5/5
Finish: The heat dulls/numbs the finish much more than the palate; not any noticeable new flavors emerge on the finish, but the cinnamon sugar and fruit leather notes are the most prominent; not as long as I hoped, but long enough to make me think this is older than previous Stagg Jr. batches. 3/5
Overall: For Stagg Jr., this stands above previous batches. It is much more approachable, from the nose through the finish, than previous batches that are at an even lower proof. But, it is inherently unfair to expect this to live up to George T. Stagg. 3.5/5
Value: This retails for around $45-$50 here locally, which is in the same ballpark as 1792 Full Proof and Bulleit Barrel Strength. This is better than those. 3.5/5
George T. Stagg 2017 (129.2 proof) (15 years, 3 months)
Nose: A lot more leather; the fruit has changed, though it is still certainly present, but more fig or plums instead of cherries or strawberry; there is some cinnamon sugar and red hots, but much more subdued; some purple grape skin; the increased age is obvious, and there is a decrease in sweetness, and increase in oak and leather (though not over-oaked by any means); the nose overall is much more approachable than Stagg Jr., and even more so than the slight decrease in proof suggests. Not a runaway winner from Stagg Jr. on the nose, but definitely a cut above. 4/5
Palate: A delicious combination of cinnamon sugar, brown sugar, cherry, and caramel; the proof delivers intense flavor without the heat clouding any nuance; sugary fruit leather; a bit of Tabasco sauce; the back-palate brings some very dark chocolate that is a bit drying. 4.5/5
Finish: Long, and taking a brief turn towards some tannic notes, but not so much that it becomes overly bitter; leather and caramel and overripe strawberry. It is the kind of finish that makes you pause and truly appreciate it. 5/5
Overall: The combination of red pepper flakes or a drop of tabasco sauce on a red apple crisp, combined with the oak and leather notes, brings a depth that Stagg Jr. cannot reach. 4.5/5
Value: We got this bottle at retail for $79.99. A more realistic price for this, and for which one of our other members secured a bottle, is $119. But, we also saw this being sold in town for $200. This is still slightly more than satisfying even at $200, but for this bottle at $79.99, this is a no-brainer 5/5.
So, back to the original question, how does Stagg Jr. Batch 9 compare to George T. Stagg? It is not a fair comparison. Despite the name, it is not a proper substitute, or consolation, to George T. Stagg.
But, that does not mean it should simply be discarded. Particularly with Batch 9, Stagg Jr. has a lot to offer. The more proper role that it plays is an accessible barrel proof version of Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare. Being able to sample Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, and Stagg Jr. is an interesting comparison of the same mash bill as it adds age and then adds proof. To that end, Stagg Jr. deserves a place on the shelf. But next to Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare, not George T. Stagg.
Stephen is a regular writer at FlightClubICT.com