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. Despite its explosive start and instant hard-to-find status, the initial batch was far from a home run. It was not a George T. Stagg substitute or even a big boy version of Buffalo Trace Bourbon that everyone hoped it would be. Instead, it was too big, too bold, and too brash. In our review, Nick called it, “a hot mess” and “couldn’t find enjoyment with it.” Since its release in fall 2013, there have been 12 batches released to date and its age is believed to hover between 7-9 years old.
A nicely constructed aroma of molasses, brown sugar, and nutmeg. As the nose opens up, cherry and honey notes develop and beautifully entwine with the heavier darker scents. It’s robust without being punchy, and its richness is superb.
For its high proof, this is an amazingly tempered sip. The palate is packed with flavor and this is a rare occurrence in which the proof doesn’t get in its way. In fact, it's the other way around. Notes of vanilla, caramel, chocolate, brown sugar, and molasses come in like a freight train, nicely balanced, yet forceful, and muting some of the proof’s heat. Overall excellent.
The palate seamlessly transitions into the finish and crescendos with a burst of tasty brown sugar fueled heat. It’s a welcomed heat as it nicely punctuates the flavor journey this bourbon takes you on. A very minor bitter note tries to intrude, but gets quickly drowned out in a delicious wash of rich seasoned oak and vanilla slurry.
The original George T. Stagg has always featured a one-of-a-kind flavor profile that makes it taste distinctly “Stagg.” With Stagg Jr., Buffalo Trace didn’t seem to set out to replicate this flavor profiles despite the bottle’s namesake. Instead, I’ve found it more closely mimics Buffalo Trace Bourbon’s profile except at a sky-high proof (in the range of 126.4-134.4). This of course brings with it all of the flavor intensity one would expect, and particularly with some previous batches, an emphasis on heat over flavor.
Generally, many Stagg Jr. batches haven’t necessarily strayed too far from other barrel proof flavor profiles on the market. Tasting blind, there hasn’t been a lot to make Stagg Jr. stand out besides its intense heat. Buffalo Trace has slowly rectified this over the years. Batch 12 doesn’t wow you with unique flavors, but with flavor intensity, balance, and its syrupy richness. This is a crowd pleaser of savory flavors that many bourbons try to reach, but few achieve to this impressive degree.
Stagg Jr. has more or less maintained its price point over the past six years. When found without markup, its price generally swings between $55-$65. This keeps it comparable with Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style, and drastically less than Booker’s Bourbon and Barrell Bourbon’s batches.
Disregarding the wide and unruly range of craft barrel proof bourbons, there are also the price outliers, the sub-$50 Old Ezra Barrel Strength and 1792 Full Proof (basically barrel proof), and over $100 Woodford Reserve Batch Proof. Clearly all barrel proof bourbons aren’t created equal and marketing has a lot to do with companies pricing their bourbons.
At least with Stagg Jr. Batch 12’s case, what its competitors price their products at isn’t the true gauge to judge Batch 12’s value. Instead, this particular batch to so well crafted, it could easily justify a high price, but at MSRP, this is a no brainer. This is a steal at $60
Stagg Jr. finally lives up to its namesake and even goes beyond; it manages to upstage this year’s George T. Stagg release.
Buffalo Trace has been playing damage control ever since the first impression the inaugural batch of Stagg Jr. made, which very literally left a bad taste in your mouth. This doesn’t come as a surprise as the company has a knack for fine tuning their products. Availability is often spotty, but surprisingly, it does show up from time to time on store shelves. This of course is all the more noteworthy coming from the distillery known for its hefty allocation.
This latest batch of Stagg Jr. is an amazing comeback story. One where bourbon drinkers knew the potential the brand had, yet were continually given unworthy candidates. It’s been six years and 12 batches later, and Buffalo Trace appears to have managed to fine tune this release and it now proudly lives up to its namesake - at least for this release. Stagg Jr. may forever live in the shadow of George T. Stagg, but that doesn’t mean it's a poor alternative. At its price, drastically improved flavor profile, and availability - both on store shelves and at bars - it's a more than a worthwhile pour, its a must have.