Review by Tom Lilly:
“It was the best of times it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”
This description from the Dickens classic “Tale of Two Cities” is exactly how I would categorize two popular, albeit hard to find, Buffalo Trace’s George T Stagg bourbons. And while the novel really did come to mind while I seriously sipped, chewed and swirled the liquid around in my mouth over three nights, it’s also laughable since I was raised on Kentucky Tavern in the tractor toolbox, Old Crow for company, and Maker’s Mark…well that was just showing off.
So while I don’t consider myself a connoisseur or the very best judge of premium bourbons versus inexpensive bourbons, the three years in the Bourbon Society has really helped me establish my own favorites, and even inspired me to experiment with blends.
I generally like bourbon… all kinds; I just like some a lot more than others. And there’s never more fun than finding a great value bourbon (Baker’s, McKenna).
So no more waxing with high class literature… here are my notes: The George T Stagg had an incredible nose. Charred floral and maple, carmel notes. I seriously sniffed that bourbon for 15 minutes. And without question, my non bourbon drinking accomplice could vouch for the distinct differences in how much more complicated and appealing the nose was on George T. Stagg. The younger Junior had more of a light pecan wood aroma. It was nice, but a little flat compared to Sugar Daddy! It’s why I’m cautioned sometimes about comparisons. Two bourbons beside each other can be too much of a contrast. And I don’t always like the best smelling bourbons (sometimes cinnamon bourbons smell better to me, but the flavor and tannins can be a little over the top for my taste buds). So I proceeded unbiased and cautious.
George T on the pallet was a bold explosion of pleasant fruits and spices. I was going to say something like a “red hot” but then someone said ,”Like Fireball.” No…oh my bosh no!! it was really a unique blend of softer spices with a big blended finish of vanilla and leather. The Bourbon Society member wants to describe it as a big, lasting finish. My rural roots wanted to describe it as “Baby’s Got Back.”
I really, really enjoyed this Bourbon as a unique combination of vibrant spicy fruit that finished bold, but tannins that were not over the top. Sounds crazy, but I thought the proof was 102% before I was corrected that it was a 129.9% proof barrel strength. Uncut, unfiltered. That was shocking to me because I really enjoyed it neat. On one tasting I added an ice cube and let it sit… but I didn’t feel like it added any quality. I also didn’t detect any boozy or alcohol smell that I would associate with a barrel strength bourbon. Because I’m a value find kind of guy, it was an awesome purchase for $80. I was given a gift once of Pappy 23 that I also loved (and shared all but three or four shots I drank myself), but I’d never fork over that kind of cash for the product. But the George T Stagg is one of the most unique and pleasant bourbons I’ve enjoyed. I also learned after the tastings (one blind by the way… tried the best I could to be impartial), that Senior is 15 years old.
But then there was Junior! You do pick up a hint of alcohol with a light wood smell on the nose, and on the first taste you get hit with those heavy tannins that overpower tobacco, oak, cinnamon notes. The flavors for me flamed out pretty quickly, leaving me with only tannins. Fortunately, you can let it sit an extra 15 minutes and adjust the ice and water and draw some softer vanilla pecan flavor with a nice cinnamon oak finish that made it very enjoyable. But I wouldn’t spend $80 on it again! There are too many other bourbon out there that hit the mark at a better value.