I learned about Buffalo Trace’s Stagg Jr. through an unlikely comparison – to its Buffalo Trace Antique Collection sibling George T. Stagg, which is basically a 15 year-old version of the same and also bottled at barrel proof. As anyone who has tried to secure any bottle from BTAC knows, George T. Stagg is not easy to lay hands on. Indeed this is true of nearly all 15 year-old bourbons these days. I realized after years of failing to acquire any BTAC (except this one), that I might as well sample the lesser-but-more-available expressions from Buffalo Trace. I especially enjoy Eagle Rare 10 without ever having tasted the BTAC 18.
Stagg Jr. is an uncut and unfiltered barrel proof Kentucky straight bourbon. My bottle is 65.95% and does not indicate a batch number. The label code suggests that it was bottled in 2017, and the Internet tells me this is batch #9. There is also no age statement, although the prose on the back states that it has aged “nearly a decade”. The first batch released in 2013 was a vatting of 8 and 9 year-old bourbon. Other Internet sources suggest 7 years, so it’s somewhere between 7 and 9. Stagg shares its “low rye” (under 10% rye) mash bill with Eagle Rare, George T. Stagg, and the eponymous Buffalo Trace bourbon. Stagg Jr. is bottled at barrel proof, which varies from batch to batch.
It should be noted that significant batch variations exist, to the degree that certain batches have wildly different reviewer scores. If you’re on the fence about a bottle of Stagg Jr., try identifying the batch (search the Web for the exact proof) and then look for reviews of that specific batch.
Nose: Plum wine and cherry jam. Chewy dark chocolate-covered cherries and fruit tape. Deep, dark, resinous dried fruit to the degree that I went and searched the Web to see if it was sherried (it’s not). There is also a hearty oak presence, some mild spices, and a thick foundation of sweet syrupy corn. Nose tickle is pronounced, but not overwhelming. Flat-out excellence.
Palate: Thin body. Burns like vengeance. Burns like a woman’s scorn. Burns like a solar coronal mass ejection. What’s left of my taste buds emerge, battle-scarred veterans, to detect cherry juice, pomegranate, and antique oak furniture polish.
Finish: Long. More fruit but masked by a hazy wood smoke. A little drier now, with cocoa nibs and coffee grounds. Fades with bittersweet chocolate and a tinge of salted caramels.
With Water: Oh God yes, give me water. A hearty splash of water initially mutes the aroma, and then reveals a little peanut butter and chocolate. My mouth still burns like Old Testament fire and brimstone… consider that you would need to drown this in water to get it anywhere near an easily-drinkable 50% ABV.
Overall: Holy Hand Grenade, this is a bourbon for the ages. Everything I like about bourbon – big wood, big fruit, big spices – served up at a white-hot 65.95% ABV. I have exactly no bad things to say about this bourbon, except that I am physically unable to fill my cabinet with bottles of it due to limited inventory, and the next batch may or may not meet my now-lofty expectations. This is definitely a challenge to drink, and fits the classical definition of “too hot”. If avoiding alcohol burn is high on your list you should probably avoid this one (just like Booker’s). If the challenge appeals to you and you’re a fan of big, flavorful bourbons, then this is a Must Try.