2014 Stagg Jr.
With a couple of small ice cubes or some drops of distilled water, this bourbon may have the best nose of the year, and the flavor isn’t far behind.
(Originally posted March 7th, 2014. Updated with new photos June 25th, 2014)
Last night, I found myself on the Urban Bourbon Trail at a popular local bourbon-themed bar and eatery called Bourbons Bistro. As you can likely tell from the name, the establishment is based upon a huge bourbon selection and bourbon-themed/paired foods. It is also stop on Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail.
Since this review was not done in a controlled environment, and instead was done on-the-fly over dinner, it may seem slightly less structured. Undoubtedly, There are fewer photos, so it may visually seem a bit disappointing. (EDIT: I have since come across a bottle at a local liquor store, and added better photos of the packaging.) Bear with me. I will have separate reviews of both Bourbon’s Bistro and the Urban Bourbon Trail in the future as well.
We entered the Bistro through the bar and were taken to our table. My first priority was, naturally, to ask for the reserve Bourbon menu because a snob like me cannot be expected to order off the normal bourbon menu like the rest of the unwashed masses, right? Well that’s not exactly how I meant to come off, but judging by the waitress’s face when I asked her for it before my wife had actually sat down, that’s clearly what she thought of me. I resolved to be on better behavior the rest of the stay.
Before I continue, you should be aware that Bourbons Bistro has over 120 bourbons on their regular bourbon list, ranging from standard mixing bourbons to top-shelf sippers, so don’t get the impression that there would only be garbage on a regular bourbon list. But the reserve list that was placed before me had the much harder-to-find bourbons, some limited release. They included every iteration of Pappy Van Winkle, The 21 Year Jefferson’s reserve, the 17 year Old Eagle Rare, and a $200 a glass Distiller’s Masterpiece from Jim Beam. My eye, however, alighted upon the Stagg Jr. Being more than a little bit of a sucker for barrel-strength bourbons, I’m a huge fan of the normal George T. Stagg, and for whatever reason, the Stagg Jr. releases keep escaping me. My initial thought was to just enjoy the bourbon and save the review for another day.
I asked the waitress to bring me the Stagg Jr. neat with a side of a couple ice cubes. She did one better: She brought it in a Glencairn Glass. Well that changed everything. Now I couldn’t justify not reviewing it as properly as possible.
So here we go.
What it is:
Stagg Jr. is a limited release, 8-9 year old Barrel Proof bourbon produced by Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, KY. It is a slightly younger cousin to the George T. Stagg (GTS), which is an extremely popular limited release very high proof offering in the Sazerac Antique Collection. This is bottled unfiltered at Barrel Proof, which in this case was 134 proof, according to the waitress, who was very informed.
Stagg Jr. is designed to look like a short, squat version of the George T. Stagg, including the iconic GTS Antlers on the label. It is a creative use of the packaging to reflect the name by essentially bottling it to look like the kid of the GTS. One interesting note on the packaging is that the front and back labels, while different, appear to be “front” labels, suitable for display.
The restaurant was very dark, so I had to use the flash on my phone to properly see this bourbon. It is very dark, a touch cloudy, and borders on brown. You can tell it is unfiltered.
The first whiff brought the expected alcohol smell through. But underlying that was what I can only describe as a brown sugar caramel scent that was very pleasing. But the strength of this bourbon is the big player here, and the alcohol is the overriding scent.
This, like its parent, the GTS, is an extremely potent bourbon. It’s big and powerful, and takes a moment to fully appreciate. There is very strong oak and tannin on this spirit, and a huge alcohol burn. There is some muted brown sugar and caramel on the back end as well.
Exceptionally long. The alcohol burn continues far into the finish, and there is a clear taste of cloves and allspice as the finish subsides.
The Stagg Jr. is a very strong and flavorful bourbon. If that’s your thing, you’ll love it neat. But here’s where the Stagg Jr. deviates from that standard refrain: I added two small ice cubes. It was as if someone poured an alcoholic confectionary into my glass. The muted caramel popped so strongly on the nose that I couldn’t believe it was the same bourbon. Brown sugar, baked goods, some oak and smoke just seemed to swirl inside the glass the draw in the nose. I told my wife that I might be perfectly happy to sit and smell the bourbon all night. She did not seem to understand or care about my infatuation with smelling this bourbon, but I continued nonetheless. Upon tasting it, the alcohol burn was just slightly muted but the underlying flavors seemed to explode on the tongue. It seemed sweet and clean ,with cinnamon and brown sugar coating the mouth. The finish was pleasant and satisfying and I found myself craving the next sip.
I’ve read other reviews where the Stagg Jr. is referred to as a bit of one trick pony next to the GTS. I’ve seen it considered a gimmick, unique only in its high proof. I can only assume those reviewers tasted it neat exclusively, because they clearly missed some things I was finding in this bourbon. Either that, or perhaps my nose and mouth are burnt from too much high proof bourbon. Either way, I respectfully disagree with negative or lukewarm reviews on this spirit. With a couple of small ice cubes or some drops of distilled water, this bourbon may have the best nose of any I’ve sampled this year, and the flavor isn’t far behind. This is a must-have for my bourbon shelf and something I’ll be sure not to miss the next time it is released.
ModernThirst.com score: 93 out of 100
I agree with Bill. Stagg Jr may be one of those “sleepers” that the masses will reject because its not the same as Stagg Sr. I picked up three bottles quite easily and there are more available. The key is not to pass judgment on this bourbon at the first sip out of the bottle. Open the bottle and let it sit for a week or two, and then revisit it. I tried some from a bottle I opened in October last year and it was fantastic with a little crushed ice. Is it Stagg Sr? Of course not. It is a very solid $50 bourbon. If you understand this point, you will like this bourbon. Comparing it to Stagg Sr (which is near impossible to find) is unfair as these are leagues apart, but that doesn’t mean Stagg Jr is a bad bourbon. If I ever get around to buying a crystal decanter for the office, that is where my Stagg Jr will live.
I actually told a friend and fellow bourbon guy the exact same thing. I tried it neat out of the bottle. Thought it was awful. I then added an ice ball, it got considerably better. Though I did love the nose right off the bat. I let it sit for a month because I wasn’t happy about it. Tried it again it was a totally different bourbon. I couldn’t believe it was the same bourbon. Loved it. Found another store that has a good stock of it. I bought more. I was also lucky enough to get a bottle this year of Stagg Sr at a very good price. Haven’t had the courage to open it yet. Also it was the first Stagg Sr I had ever seen .
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Completely agree with Bill. Stagg Jr. is a bold bourbon in every way, you have to understand and be prepared for that. It will get your attention. I did a similar experiment the other night by adding just a couple drops of water between sips. Wow! Much more flavor showed up. I’ll be trying with ice in a few days. I’m really liking these barrel strength, unfiltered bourbons.
I really like this one, and most of the barrel strength stuff out there. The 4Roses barrel strength selections are great, too. I’d compare this with the elijah craig barrel proof. By the way, guys, we’re waiting on that review!
I know, I know! I probably have 10-15 bottles yet to open, which means I have about 30 open bottles at the moment that I need to start working through. Plus, I have at least 3 samples from distillers and PR companies that are en route that I will have to get through first. But ECBP is very high on the list, especially now that I have a couple bottles of it.
So much to drink, so little time, so tired a liver!
I also have the ECBP… it is very good. I’ve been looking for bourbons with more flavor, and these barrel proof and unfiltered options are the answer. The ECBP is very good, perhaps a bit “nicer”, or less aggressive than the Stagg Jr.
If only I could find George T. Stagg once in awhile. It’s been 3 or 4 years since I found a bottle.
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Had the same experience. When I first tried Stagg jr. thought it was awful. Added a round cube it got better. I let it sit for a month because I wasn’t happy with it. Tried it again with the cube it was a whole different bourbon. It is now one of my favorites. It has a good nose but it definitely needs to breathe so to speak. I also was lucky enough to find a Stagg Sr this year. I haven’t opened it yet. Working up to it. I also seem to prefer the barrel strength.
I was hunting for a bottle or two of Blantons and ran into a bottle of Stagg Jr. today. I did not hesitate to buy it and take it home like a bourbon treasure of old longing for the safety of my cupboard. My first tasting of ECBS was similar to my first tasting of Stagg Jr. Both were neat, flavorful and overwhelming. Letting these beautiful monsters breath is key. This time around I’ll have a small ice ball waiting for Stagg Jr. Cheers.
A single splash of water or cube completely changes the character of stagg jr. I love it after a quick splash.