This is the always high-octane George T. Stagg from the 2010 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. The Stagg, as you doubtless know, is the big bully in the BTAC, the annual release of which is now just behind the Van Winkle releases in terms of mania (or hype if you prefer). In 2010 I think I’d only just begun to get the BTAC on my radar. I was a Scotch purist then and the thought of paying more than $40 for a bourbon would have seemed outlandish to me. The next year, however, I split the entire set with two friends (I’ve previously reviewed the Sazerac 18 and the Handy from that release) and was well on my way to learning to appreciate bourbon. Of course, that was pretty much the last year that it was possible to get the BTAC without jumping through burning hoops while juggling chainsaws on the back of a unicorn. As a result this sample of the 2010 is the only other Stagg I’ve had to date. Or am about to have–let’s get right to it:
George T. Stagg, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, 2010 (71.1%; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Hot, but not as hot as you might expect of 71.1%. Clove first and then rich caramel, a lot of oak (not tannic though) and dried tangerine peel. After a minute or so the caramel is the lead note and there’s also some notes of graphite or maybe it’s ink. Gets sweeter as it goes and there’s some honey and apricot in there too. The oak gets a little sharper with time and there’s some cinnamon in there too now with the cloves. Water takes the edge off the alcohol burn but also off the wood. It does jumble up the nose into less than sum of its parts though.
Palate: Very, very hot! As on the nose, the clove note leads and is followed by the fruit and honey. Hard to make out much else on the first sip–I’m going to wait a bit and see if my palate adjusts for the next sip. No, it’s still extremely hot. I’m afraid I’m not one of those people who can drink Stagg undiluted: bring on the water! Ah yes, now I can taste it and with water it tastes exactly like the nose smelled neat. I’m not sure how that happens but it’s good. Cloves and cinnamon and honey and citrus peel and apricot floating on a base of caramel and spicy wood.
Finish: Long. Not particularly distinct neat. Much better with water: it’s the cloves and (slightly sour) wood that stretch out forever.
Comments: The nose is lovely (and perhaps even better) without water but I’m afraid the palate defeated me neat. Water brings the palate up to the level of the undiluted nose but weakens the nose itself. The way out, I would think, is to nose this forever before adding water but adding water drop by drop before drinking. It is rather good once sorted, but I’m not going to be going into the 90s. What’s most interesting to me is the significant overlap on the nose (in particular) between this and some long-aged massively sherried single malts–though there are, of course, crucial differences which are probably down to some large measure to this being virgin oak. Goes to show, probably, that it’s the type of wood and not the previous contents of the casks that most influence single malt whiskies.
Rating: 89 points.
Thanks to Sku for the sample!