Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: Sazerac Company
Distillery: Buffalo Trace
Release Date: Summer 2022
Age: NAS (Aged at least 4 years per TTB regulations, rumored to be 7-9 years old)
MSRP: $70 (2023)
Stagg Jr. was first announced in 2013, and with its junior designation it was expected to be a more widely available version of its counterpart released annually as part of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, George T. Stagg. Initially, some commented that it seemed closer to a barrel proof version of Buffalo Trace Bourbon than the original George T. Stagg. Yet, it quickly gained the attention of enthusiasts as it capitalized on the growing popularity of the Stagg name and barrel proof bourbons in general. In 2021, Buffalo Trace announced that Batch 18 would be the first batch to lose “Jr.” from its name and simply be called, “Stagg.” Stagg is released twice a year in waves that can be spread out for a few months with a release date that corresponds to a season rather than a month. The bourbon’s age is believed to hover between 7-9 years old. We awarded Stagg Jr. Batch 12 the Best Whiskey of 2019.
A heavy caramel scent with a raspberry accent is forward and direct. It has a dominating presence over softer scents of orange, green apple, sharpie marker, and cinnamon oak. It coalesces into an enjoyable aroma, though it doesn’t overly impress. This is largely due to its straightforwardness. The nose reveals its proof unexpectedly and can be quite potent, and even punchy at times, reminding you this is a Stagg bourbon after all.
A strong cinnamon front is quickly followed by an equally influential dry tannic oak note. The bourbon’s proof is instantly noted as its heat ramps up and drowns out emerging flavors of walnut, nutmeg, and dark fruit. Raspberry and orange from the nose stick around adding a flair of uniqueness to the palate. As usual for the brand, there’s a good intensity of the flavors, except with this batch there are fewer of them and they’re more focused.
Dry tannic oak continues into the finish. It manages to not be overbearing, but will likely be divisive for many people. Rich dark fruits mixed with vanilla help provide a steady and savory base. The bourbon’s heat continues to be present with added pepper for good measure. After it ramps up, it resides, bringing with it a good portion of the overall intensity of the finish’s flavors. It ends with a lingering harsh charred oak note that is serviceable but not incredibly novel.
There are a lot of barrel proof bourbons on the market, yet few have the éclat that Stagg does. Many barrel proof bourbons share similar flavor notes of oak, vanilla, caramel, maple, molasses, and brown sugar. Some stay within these fundamental flavors and excel, while others try and offer a bit more. Both George T. Stagg and Stagg have often been rooted in the fundamentals, yet they always offer their quintessential Stagg bite. It can be hard to completely capture with words what makes Stagg, Stagg, but all it takes is one sip and you know it.
That’s why Stagg Batch 18 is such a surprise. It’s still a Stagg bourbon, but that trademark flavor and bite are slightly amended. Tasting blind, there’s a good chance you might not be able to pick it as a Stagg bourbon compared to other batches that have come before it. The bourbon features a much stronger cinnamon component this time, and the dry tannic oak can be quite assertive. It’s still as hot as ever, but that hotness doesn’t bring with it the same degree of flavor explosion of previous batches. In more than a few ways, Batch 18 harkens back to the earliest batches of the brand - for better or for worse. I noted in my Batch 17 review that it was “more of the same,” where Batch 18 stands out for being different, and because of that, it will likely be a contested release for fans of its traditional barrel proof flavor profile.
Not much has changed for the value proposition for Stagg over the years. Buffalo Trace has always done well pricing their whiskeys at or below the going market rate. While the secondary market is another beast entirely, Stagg’s $70 MSRP has always been a great value (if you could find it at that price) because of its consistent quality. For Stagg Batch 18, its value takes a slight hit with this batch being more of a miss than a hit compared to recent releases. Yet this release still falls in line with the occasional so-so releases of Larceny, Elijah Craig, and Booker’s in the past. Given how Batch 18 performs, it's a solid enough offering for its stated price, but be careful spending much more than that.
Dropping its “Jr.” designation might seem superficial on the surface, but Batch 18 breaks out of the George T. Stagg mold and ventures into new and divisive territory.
It’s been a long road for George T. Stagg’s understudy. It originally launched to much fanfare and hopefulness of it being an easier-to-obtain version of the ever popular Buffalo Trace Antique Collection release. Instead, initial Stagg Jr. releases were a letdown as a result of their brashness. But over the years the brand matured, and eventually overtook George T. Stagg in quality from time to time, though it never truly became the readily available version everyone hoped for.
Now in its 18th batch release, as Vince Vaughn would say, “You’re all growns up.” Losing its “Jr.” designation makes a lot of sense, as the brand is much more than a junior version of another product. It has long since become its own thing and on more than one occasion upstaged George T. Stagg in the same release year. Batch 18 puts the brand in a unique place. The bourbon is far from more of the same as most expect it to be and follows in the footsteps of 2022's George T. Stagg took. It is a departure from the typical Stagg Jr. flavor profile and with that, offers something new, but is also less refined. Batch 18 is as brash as Stagg has ever been and the inclusion of dry tannic oak and less sweetness is a surprising one. There’s nothing inherently flawed with Batch 18, and there's still a lot to enjoy about this batch, but it won’t hit with the same widespread acclaim as previous batches. After a string of great releases from Booker’s, Larceny, A. Smith Bowman, and sourced barrel proof bourbons such as Lucky Seven and Kentucky Owl over the past 12 months, Stagg has more competition than ever before. Buffalo Trace took a chance offering something new with Batch 18, but it came up short this go around. We’ve gotten so used to Stagg hitting such a high bar with every batch that it makes it that much more of a surprise when one doesn’t.