We will never forget the first time we had George T. Stagg bourbon – it was a revelation. Never had a spirit delivered such fireworks on the palate. Unapologetically strong (at 143 proof), George T. Stagg is the kind of whiskey you sit with and chew on for a long time. The biggest problem with George T. Stagg isn’t its monster proof, it’s that it has become nearly impossible to find. We were surprised when we heard that Buffalo Trace, the makers of George T. Stagg, were extending the George T. Stagg line with Stagg Jr., a younger barrel proof version of the notoriously strong whiskey. George T. Stagg is traditionally released as a 17 year old whiskey, while Stagg Jr. comes in at eight to nine years, literally half the age of George T. Stagg.
Stagg Jr. Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (134.4 Proof / 67.2% ABV, $49.99) is noticeably paler in color than George T. Stagg, more dark gold than amber. The nose of Stagg Jr. is spicy with cinnamon leaping out of the glass. The nose is slightly less oak forward than George T. Stagg with more honey , vanilla, and marzipan, and it’s less complex. When you add a few drops of water to Stagg Jr., the spicier undertones really amp up, especially the oak. At 134.4 proof, the entry is extremely assertive with sharp oak, vanilla, and cinnamon right out of the gate. It’s clear from the first sip that Stagg Jr. absolutely requires water, even if it’s just a couple of drops. It’s hard to call an eight or nine year old bourbon young, but there’s a youthful quality to Stagg Jr. which, from the get go, feels a little more wild, unfocused, and unintegrated. The midpalate of Stagg Jr. is dominated by oak combined with high proof spirit, so strong that it steals the thunder out of the other flavors. Sweet vanilla is in the mix as well as cinnamon, but the alcohol and oak are so dominant that it’s hard to chew through them to get to anything else. The heat and spice peak at the end of the midpalate for a spicy and dry finish. It’s not a fantastic finish and is pretty consistent with the rest of the flavor experience.
There’s no doubt that, like George T. Stagg, Stagg Jr. is a strong whiskey, but strong isn’t everything. What makes George T. Stagg such an amazing whiskey is how it balances strength with complexity; it’s a whiskey to be explored and experienced. Stagg Jr. is just strong. Stagg Jr. isn’t a terrible whiskey, it’s just a one trick pony. Whiskey enthusiasts who have experienced and enjoyed George T. Stagg probably won’t get what they are looking for from Stagg Jr., but with the relative scarcity of some of the super premium bourbons like Pappy’s (which Buffalo Trace also makes), Stagg Jr. is going to get poured a lot, especially at bars which appeal to bourbon drinkers who want to drink “high end.” Buffalo Trace assures us that Stagg Jr.’s release won’t impact the stocks of the full George T. Stagg, which we assume will continue to be painfully scarce. Our advice would be to save up and try to snag George T. Stagg when it’s released, as Stagg Jr. doesn’t even come close.