George T. Stagg is a brand that harkens back to a dominant distillery of the 19th century. The man, born in 1835, was known as "The Ultimate Salesman" and his legacy has clearly had a lasting impact on the bourbon industry. If you're interested in the history of George T. Stagg, feel free to read more about it on the Whiskey University website. Today this name comes as a yearly barrel proof bottle release from Buffalo Trace under the very sought after Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, often called BTAC (bee-tack) for short. Between the intense scarcity of this release and the consistent quality across the lineup, the once-yearly release around Thanksgiving often gives whiskey enthusiasts, store owners and distributors all sorts of heart palpitations. After a year where George T. Stagg was not included in the BTAC lineup, this year featured undoubtedly extra demand. I had the good fortune of trying the 2020 release as well, and the 2023 release is right around the corner now with some of media samples hitting circulation at the time of writing. Comparing across years has always been a fun way of keeping the brand honest. I hope to be able to write about the 2023 release soon!
Your luckiest bet to finding a release of the antique collection is actually this release and the Thomas H. Handy Sazerac rye which are distributed in the highest numbers. The honest truth is only the most well-connected, deep-pocketed or luckiest whiskey enthusiasts will try this. Is it worth your time or hard earned money to chase? I hope this review contributes to the mental calculus required to arrive at a conclusion to that question.
Company on Label: Buffalo Trace
Whiskey Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Mash Bill Percentages: Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #1 (Low Rye < 10%)
Age: 15 years
Further identification: The 2022 release of George T. Stagg comes after a year hiatus; the nitty gritty detail is all laid out in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection release letter below:
Nose: Lifting the glass to my nose I find big baking spices jumping out first. Light cinnamon, allspice and a touch of brown sugar is a surprisingly underwhelming start. Traces of cherry begin to bubble up from the depths as I inhale deeply. Deep inhales produce vanilla wafer, light oak and raisin. Lacking the patience for this glass to unpack itself (it's been resting 15 minutes already), I will venture into an early sip.
Coming back to the nose I find lovely yankee candle level aroma volume that carries apricot, cinnamon pear liqueur and campfire smores. Nosing late in the glass I find caramel bundt cake, brown sugar, glazed doughnut, and beautifully balanced oak. The empty glass smells of leather, dulce de leche and pecan pie.
Palate: At first sip I find a classic powerhouse ultra-aged bourbon. Leather, rich cherry and cinnamon infused oak attack the taste buds without sending them into shock. The mouthfeel is a touch drying with fig syrup and nutmeg at odds. Venturing in for another sip reveals bright linen, sweet cranberry juice and creamy apple cider doughnut notes. Chewing further I find plenty of red berry compote, spice and heft. Cinnamon swings back in balanced alongside thick, jammy blackberry tones. As I dig near the bottom of the glass I find lovely, sweet effervescence has proliferated; strawberry, buttercream frosting and thick raspberry sauce all sit atop a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. Time and patience has done this glass wonders. Yum. Gingersnaps and dark ice cream cone notes dance on the long finish. My last sip is bittersweet as the glass turned most delicious on my final sips, suggesting this one benefits from building a few sips in rather than swapping between things as one might do in a flight. Potent maraschino cherry and plum round out a nice dram that manages to not overdo it at this proof point. The finish lasts longer than anything I have had in recent memory.
TL;DR: Holy moly, that is good whiskey - an absolute powerhouse of flavor that you can taste for days
Well, this one rocks. This manages to deliver all the punches without getting tired out. I would definitely put this in the same weight class at the 2020 release, and I commend the decision to hold back the 2021 offering if it means consistently delivering to this standard. I have so many great whiskey memories built at this point, and this brings them all pouring back into being lived again.
This is pinnacle whiskey to me.