“Truckin’, like the do-dah man. Once told me “You’ve got to play your hand”. Sometimes your cards ain’t worth a dime, if you don’t lay’em down.” ~The Grateful Dead
On another night of #whiskeyandwax I’m listening to The Grateful Dead Europe in 72′ re-release on 180 gram vinyl, enjoying the hell out of life….deep in thought. If you’re a fan of classic comedies then Hedley Lamar said it best in Blazing Saddles…”My mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention” AND if you just said “Ditto” after reading that last bit you and I kindred spirits.
While very little is known of his childhood, the impact his adult life had on the bourbon industry was quite profound. George T. Stagg worked as a whiskey salesman in St. Louis-Missouri. A little luck found him teaming up with none other than another Buffalo Trace and BIB pioneer Col. E.H. Taylor, Jr. This tag team duo collaborated to engineer the most dominant American bourbon/whiskey distillery of the late 1800’s. Stagg’s shrewd business acumen helped transform the Distillery (originally known as the O.F.C. Distillery or Old-Fashioned Copper or Old Fired Copper) into one of the world’s most influential bourbon producers. In 1904, the Distillery was re-branded to bear Stagg’s name, a title that was maintained for nearly a century until the name changed again to the Buffalo Trace distillery in 2001. Today, the Buffalo Trace Distillery continues to carry on the tradition of innovation and distinction of its famous forefathers producing the highly sought after George T. Stagg Kentucky Bourbon/Whiskey in very small numbers as part of the distillery’s ‘Antique Collection’ series. The President and CEO of the Buffalo Trace (Mark Brown) has a quote that I’ve always loved which is “Honor tradition and embrace change” so tonight I’m doing both.
George T. Stagg was born on my brother Jeff’s birthday and that’s where the comparison ends…well sort of. While I will say it is cool that just before writing this review I found out that Buffalo Trace Distillery was just named the 2018 Whiskey Distillery of the year I would have to say that’s second on the cool factor scale to my brother officially becoming the largest commercial hops farmer in the state of New Jersey. Keep your eyes peeled for his Alpha Acid Hops over the next few years. It’s not too often I place sure bets, but that is certainly one. I couldn’t be more proud of the fact he said “Fuck You” to corporate America and bought a farm. We’re all better off with him making beer…trust me. Both will make an impact on the world of alcohol, but there’s only one I just mentioned that I’m related to. Anywho…I digress. Back to the bourbon. Tonight I’m having a dram( or two) to celebrate the origin of what will undoubtedly be a hops dynasty AND a celebration of everything that Buffalo Trace Distillery has become in the world of whiskey. I also couldn’t be more proud to be one of the lucky few named “Buffalo Trace Friend of The Trace” especially when I get to swap stories, reviews, feedback and sometimes the occasional bottle or two with friends and fellow FOTT members like Bradley Drell, Mike Bonin, Brett Thornsberry, Glen Coombe and a laundry list of usual suspects that have collectively forgotten more about bourbon than I could learn in a lifetime.
The point of this endeavor is to decide once and for all who would win in a fight. I’m just kidding, you’d have to insane to think Stagg Jr. was better…or perhaps you’d be wrong. I guess you’ll have to read a little more to find out. I mean when you look at the numbers in both cases you’re dealing with ass-kicker barrel proof bourbons that are between 128 and 132 APV. In the wrong hands both of these can go under appreciated.
In one corner weighing in at 750ML you find Stagg Jr. who hails from Frankfort, Kentucky. Using Buffalo Trace’s Mashbill #1 and using less that 10% rye barreled in new charred oak with no age statement and an ABV of 65.95% you find a bold whiskey reminiscent of the man it’s named after. Costs on this bottle range, but right now in Upstate New York IF you can find it you’ll be paying around $45, but in my opinion this could be one of the best bourbons for the money that’s out there. Definitely a daily drinker, but it’s a creaper…you will be speaking in tongues if you don’t drink in moderation.
Color: Mid-Dark Amber
Nose: vanilla, caramel, wood, chocolate cherries in an altogether pleasant combination
Palate: Sticky mouthfeel, pronounced wood oil with long fingers. Chocolate, red fruit, caramel, leather, cigar wrapper, nutmeg, clove and wood. Some fruit in the middle, but this is spicy. The rye pops up to say hello.
Finish: Middle length soft finish with strong alcohol aromatics.
Summary: Solid pour. This is a daily drinker. This is really, really, really good for the price and honestly if you don’t like it your probably an asshole and we can’t be friends.
In the other corner you find the heavyweight George T. Stagg also weighing in at 750ML and 129.2 ABV with 15 years under it’s belt deep in seclusion stored in charred new oak barrels. George T. Stagg hits all the right notes…floats like a butterfly, but well you know the rest. It’s supposed to retail at $90 but that’s laughable. This is one of the reasons I loath the secondary market because you’ll be lucky to find it and if you do it’ll probably be between $175 and $250 (on the low end). If you do find it buy it, but do yourself a favor and don’t hold on to it forever. Good bourbon is in fact meant to be consumed with friends. As my friend Glen says “It’s a consumable, not a collectible” and he’s right. Pour yourself a dram and enjoy!
Color: Dark Amber
Nose: vanilla, caramel, tobacco, leather, oak wood…smells like an expensive cigar box.
Palate: Chocolate, leather, cigar wrapper, nutmeg, clove and wood. This is a classic bourbon reminicent of days gone by, lush and loud with character and spice.
Finish: Not as long as the price would indicate, but very rewarding.
Summary: There’s an obviously glaring reason why this is include in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection beyond the fact that it’s high proof…it’s very drinkable, but you’ll need deep pockets to stock this in abundance. This is one of the best drams I’ve ever had the privilege to drink and although I’ve been told prior years have been better I find that hard to believe. A+ for effort on this one.
It’s really hard to compare apples to apples on this one because their like two apples from opposite ends of your grandparents orchard that you grew up in. Both have merit, but since only one can rise to the top I’ll say GTS in eight rounds…TKO. All in all, I’ll call it another win for Buffalo Trace. Shocking the world of whiskey one release at a time and all the whole remaining true to the idea that you need to honor tradition, but embrace change. A philosophy everyone should employ.