George T. Stagg has a reputation for being a big, bold, unapologetic whiskey that pulls no punches. It’s easy to earn that reputation when every release is uncut and unfiltered. Still, some years are bigger and bolder than others. The 2016 iteration of George T. Stagg is the most recent release in the series to achieve “hazmat” status (i.e., the natural cask strength is above 70% ABV/140 proof). That magic number seems to have an association with quality in the eyes of “proof hounds” that love high strength whiskey. I’ve had my fair share of hazmat releases over the years and while they’re certainly full of both heat and flavor, it’s sometimes hard to separate the two when the strength reaches these astronomical levels. If any release can pull it off, though, it’s GTS.
George T. Stagg uses Buffalo Trace’s low rye Mashbill No 1. The 2016 release was crafted from 142 barrels selected from the first three floors of Warehouses M, N, H, L, and K. With a massive 76% of the original whiskey lost to evaporation, the yield was estimated to be just under 10,000 bottles.
|Black cherry compote, toffee, vanilla, wood smoke, pepper, creme brûlée topping. The fact that I’m getting this much without adding water is promising. With water and time, more baking spice, anise, and hints of ripe peaches and bananas.
|Chocolate covered cherries, creamy vanilla, deep oak, nutmeg, caramel, lumbar yard. With water, it’s drier with additional hints of dark chocolate, a bit of salt, and burnt sugar.
|A very dry finish. Charcoal, dried berries, plenty of oak, leather. Deep, musty notes of old wood and tobacco linger for a long while. Water doesn’t change the finish much at all.
|Despite the proof, this is still an extremely drinkable pour. The heat is most apparent through the palate but is well masked on the nose and finish. This isn’t the most complex GTS I’ve had and I think the heat is a bit more distracting than most Staggs I’ve had. Still, it’s an enjoyable pour that does those big, bold notes well.