The first batch of Stagg Jr from 2023 comes bearing the new naming convention that started last year. If we hadn't gotten this new nomenclature, this would be the 22nd release of Stagg Jr, which you can imagine might have been a little confusing having a batch 22 in the year '23... As if the world of whiskey wasn't already confusing enough. I'm here to lend some clarity, my dear reader!
I'm a little late on getting around to reviewing this one. For one it seems to have inexplicably never showed up in Massachusetts... or at least at none of my regular haunts, because I incessantly ask around for Stagg (it's okay to be "that guy" if they know you and you buy other stuff regularly). Despite this and my incredibly busy travel schedule this year, I was able to procure one to make sure to have some level of continuity for one of my favorite Buffalo Trace releases. If the "batch" concept and how it has evolved over time has you confused, here's a helpful table listing every release of Stagg Jr to date by batch, proof and release date. I have 23B listed since I'm working on that review as well.
Batch 18 - First "Stagg" Batch
Alrighty then, now that the historical accounting is done - shall we dive in and see if this Stagg is going to be worth the hunt?
Company on Label: Buffalo Trace
Whiskey Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Mash Bill Percentages: Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #1 (Low Rye < 10%)
Age: NAS (~8 years)
Further identification: Batch 23A was put out as the Summer release of 2023 at an MSRP of $70
Nose: Right away I get an interesting sweet salinity out of the glass. Digging past that, it's instant barbarians with brown sugar bursting through. Barrel funk is prevalent throughout the glass as notes of leather, allspice, black pepper kernels, and rich caramel sauce just screams "well-aged bourbon". Hints of green apple can be dug up from beneath these heavier, richer tones. Mmm - the wood tones cannot be understated here. I tend to enjoy oak-forward notes more on the nose than I do on the palate, so I'm going to give this even longer to rest in the glass before I venture into a sip. My right nostril finds more of the earthiness that comes with barrel funk: think patchouli, charcoal and resinous larch. My left nostril recalls bakery sweetness of maple bacon, strawberry crêpes and confectioners sugar. As I dig further, the glass turns lighter & lighter, suggesting a patient sipper will be the most rewarded. Time to taste.
Oh yeah, barrel funk sticks around and is reinvigorated in spades with the introduction of the whiskey that is now aromatizing through my mouth. There's not much further evolution in the glass, but the profile it does consistently deliver is not one I think any fan of bourbon could be disappointed in. If you've never smelled the inside of a rick house, this is your chance for an introduction. The empty glass smells of aged gouda, smile-worthy leather and heavy metal factory machinery. If you've ever visited an old mill of any kind (textile, shoemaker, you name it) you'll know what I mean. This is a great nose for eliciting memories.
Palate: Right from the start I find a refined, balanced and approachable Stagg - not the spice bomb of some of their releases. Apple notes dominate on the introduction. The mouth coating is silky and it sticks around an incredibly long time with maraschino cherry delivering the majority of the production. Another sip elevates creamy tones of vanilla bean ice cream, pie crust and syrupy cherry. Again the linger is long and magnificent with classic bourbon tones of the aforementioned cherry, crème brûlée and butterscotch. A larger sip and swish introduces a bit of a drying feeling as graham cracker, brown sugar cookie, salt water taffy, and waves of oak pour over the taste buds. Flashes of Christmas spices burst onto the palate at times. As I sip lower in the glass I get surprised by a slightly tannic, dark note blending somewhere in a brooding swirl of raspberry and blackberry - it reminds me of a good merlot enjoyed in cooler weather. Hints of expressed orange peel and simple focaccia notes give this excellent depth. This drinks thoroughly satisfying without venturing into the wow territory where the hair on the back of my neck begins to stand up. It's not a love that burns through rain, but it certainly won't let you down when you're looking for a sip of good bourbon. My last sip is a subtle nod of maraschino cherry that says, "I know you'll be back for more". The finish is medium to long at times and carries plum, sweet raisin and fresh raspberry notes.
TL;DR: A great barrel proof bourbon with plenty to enjoy & explore for those looking for excitement
My favorite part of the Stagg Jr releases is that they deliver so much to talk about as a whiskey writer. The way it sits in the mouth, the ephemeral nature of how it interacts with your present life & experiences, and the proper filter of a quality blending team that makes sure the whiskey you get in that bottle is not going to suck. If you can't find George T. Stagg this year - this is likely the next best thing you actually have the chance to see. Perhaps Buffalo Trace is trying to shoot for some level of consistency here now with the new numbering / batch scheme. I'm definitely here for that! This batch is definitely one of the crushable ones, as I'm already on my 2nd bottle that is being shared amongst friends.