Along with the rest of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, George T. Stagg hasn’t quite reached Pappy Van Winkle status, but it’s quickly gaining ground and is just about as hard to get. They only release it once or twice a year, so you may need to develop a relationship with your local liquor store to procure a bottle. The truth is, if you haven’t found a bottle of this yet, then you’re most likely out of luck for a few months, stuck looking for it at bars, or resigned to playing victim to some hopeful opportunist who bought their entire local supply as an investment so they could sell it for triple what it’s worth.
At first, I wasn’t even going to review this one. It’s so difficult to find that I feel like reviews of it are practically useless. I always imagined people reading this blog were looking for advice on how to spend their money, and rarity considered, a review doesn’t seem like it would serve very many.
Also, it seems like many (not all) of the people who review this kind of stuff are the type of elitist drinkers who like to brag about their collections and all the pricey finds they paid out the nose for. Oh hi, Twitter. I didn’t see you standing there. What’s this, you say? Oh, it’s just a Stitzel-Weller bottling of Old Dickwad 15. It’s suuuuper rare. Woh.
So why bother writing about it? Well okay, maybe I’m a bit of a braggart. (Look what I got, suckas!) That aside, it’s a common sentiment that older whisky is better than younger whisky, though the truth isn’t quite so simple. There’s a finite lifetime on how long whisky can spend in a virgin cask before it becomes undrinkable and this one may be approaching the point of no return. Despite the suspicious lack of an age statement on the bottle, Buffalo Trace’s webpage claims that this whisky is “no less than 15 years old”. If you ask me, after I bought this, I think buying a second bottle would have been a colossal waste of money for me. In that spirit of dissent, I figured a review was prudent, after all.
This whisky is out of control and I don’t mean the fun “out of control,” like your buddy with the bald tires who goes e-braking around the parking lot the first time it snows each year. This is Charlie Sheen’s Twitter account, out of control. The kind of reckless tweeting that needs a second service so it can operate at full, ludicrous capacity (TwitLonger). This whisky is the kind that angrily capitalizes random WORDS for extra EMPHASIS in between delusions of coke-fueled grandeur, all while arbitrarily bashing the enter key between prepositions. This is the whisky equivalent of that guy we all wish we could have hung out with for a few weeks when we were sixteen, broke and dumb as hell. Sure it’s fun, but I definitely wouldn’t want to live with it, and earnestly trying to understand its musings for more than five minutes at a time is a masochist’s errand.
Ironically, I think the George T. Stagg earns such high praise because of its long history of ridiculousness. Previous releases have boasted proofs that hovered around 140. Trust me when I say you don’t want to know what’ll happen if you accidentally inhale some of that while sipping. I can’t say the 2013 is better or worse than previous releases, but I do feel like it’s probably riding on the coattails of shenanigans past.
Nose: Figs marinated in soy sauce. Deeply roasted pecans over green bananas. Caramel popcorn from a tin. Oak, oak, and oak beside a plate of marzipan dusted with stale, smoked maple sugar. Corn starch dusted carnations and pine resin. It’s sour, rubbery, slightly medicinal and has an almost peaty, phenolic quality to it. If there is a Satan, I would wager that this is what his tears smell like.
Palate: Predictably HOT and drying at full strength (duh!) followed quickly by a touch of uncured composite tooth filling. Though even with water, the hotness persists, so it’s not just a product of the high abv. It has a strong cooling character that paints your tonsils and makes me feel like I’m drinking a first aid kit full of dry, black licorice, chocolate and pecan skins. Vanilla beans! Candy cinnamon, raw capsaicin and clover buds sprinkled over a plate of the eternally malevolent’s tears.
This is a legendary whisky and absolutely worth trying it if you can find it. Old Bourbon isn’t for everyone though, so keep that in mind. One last word of advice: this should only retail for $80-90 in the US. If someone’s trying to sell you a bottle for $250 it’s because they think or hope that you’re an idiot.