I'm always excited to explore a new Stagg Jr batch. The biannual release of this antler-adorned bottle is a new opportunity to explore a big, bold bourbon from Buffalo Trace. Always released at full barrel proof with no water added and no chill filtration, this is bourbon at its core. Blended in much higher quantities than the likes of the more senior George T. Stagg, this serves as the more accessible opportunity to drink 'straight from the barrels'. While it may not be as consistent as the likes of Buffalo Trace or Eagle Rare, there are at least convenient ways to tell which batch you are getting into these days, with the bottom right of the front label showing the batch number "23" just representing the release year, and "B" demonstrating it is the 2nd release of the year. Prior to this, enthusiasts had to track the batches on their own based on the proof. Once we started having duplicates, things got much more interesting. Batch 2 and 17 had the same proof... So then we had to start inspecting laser codes. If you're still looking for clarity on what all this means, take a gander at the Stagg Jr batch table below.
Batch 18 - First "Stagg" Batch
Now that we got all that accounting out of the way... Let's move onto all things batch 23B shall we?
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 23B was put out as the Winter release of 2023 at an MSRP of $70
Nose: Hmm, the cool well-rested glass seems to be shrouded in mystique upon first raising the glass to my nose. I find subtle hints of vanilla, toffee and... woah. There it all is! Dark rye bread, molasses and dank, earthy oak just burst onto the scene. Blue corn chips and a flash of paprika extend the earthy base into more distinct subtleties. Nondescript wood tones suggest this needs more time to open up. Resting further, browned butter, hot black coffee and cinnamon rolls can be smelled from afar. Overall I find the nose to have some really off-brand aromas like cedar grilling planks and kimchi. Little further depth leads me into a sip.
Returning after a bit of palate exploration, I find some nice butterscotch tones. Dried cherry and raspberry are distinct on deep inhales. Late in the glass a tiny bit of barrel funk and leather that batch 23A delivered in spades can be found. I dig harder and harder trying to find that nostalgic woodshop aroma I am craving, but it fails to materialize in any meaningful way. Overall this glass has fallen into a classic, dry, caramel-bomb bourbon nose that doesn't overly excite. The empty glass smells of dry raisin, club crackers and a distant, sandy beach.
Palate: My first sip is quite spice forward with cinnamon, clove and anise leading gently. I can see snow on the ground outside in my minds eye as the linger persists with Christmas baking spices. Another sip is incrementally more potent with undulating tones of dark fruit, mace and coriander. The underlying notes are definitely a touch bready, which comes across like a crumbling scone. Resting the glass longer has revealed a dark profile similar to a Nutty Irishman coffee cocktail with the frangelico aspect leading the way. A larger sip and swish reveals this may not be as good as I initially thought when I first opened the bottle. Vague nuttiness and less-than-desirable spices unfortunately tamp down the usual deliciousness of Stagg. My last sip carries a medium finish of nutmeg, clove anise, cherry skins and dry oak.
TL;DR: Classic, but rather boring bourbon that fails to materialize any patent distinction
This pour was a flash in the pan. The first pop of the cork led with excitement, grace and depth. Every pour since then has been more and more disappointing unfortunately, but this is exactly why I always taste new whiskeys 3 times before I offer my full review thoughts. When comparing the two releases from 2023, there is no competition here. 23A was apple-y and awesome. 23B comes across... bland and boring. It's unfortunate, but it's my honest opinion. Despite this middle-of-the-road score, I'll still be looking forward to the next one, because I'm a sucker for Stagg.