Today, I submit a review in defense of a whiskey that has taken some flak over the past 8-9 months. If you spend some time looking up “George T. Stagg 2019,” you’ll find comments about how it’s the “worst GTS ever” or how recent batches of Stagg Jr. are better despite being half the age, significantly cheaper, and a lot easier to find.
I wholeheartedly disagree.
From the first whispers of a “low proof” George T. Stagg, the bourbon enthusiast world wondered what the final product would taste like compared to previous years that often approached (and sometimes broke) the 140 proof mark. In fairness, I was one of those very enthusiasts. The typical George T. Stagg is a bruising monster of a bourbon that pulls no punches.
The lower strength in 2019 was due in large part to barrels being selected from the lower floors of the Buffalo Trace rickhouses. The higher moisture content and cooler temperatures on the lower floors often leads to a lower proof out of the barrel. Does lower proof automatically make this an inferior product? I had to know for sure and the only way to do it was to try it blind.
On two separate occasions, I tasted GTS 2019 blind against two batches of Stagg Jr. Both times, the highly
overhyped acclaimed Stagg Jr. Batch 12 was one of the other blind pours. Despite having the glasses randomized for me, it was extremely and immediately clear which glass had GTS compared to Stagg Jr. both times. GTS had a depth of flavor that the Stagg Jrs couldn’t even remotely touch. While slightly off topic, I think it’s also worth noting that in both blind tastings, Stagg Jr. Batch 12 ranked dead last against Batches 8 and 10. Just another reminder to let your own palate decide.
George T. Stagg 2019 was barreled in the spring of 2004 and bottled 15 years and 3 months later at 116.9 proof. It was pulled from Warehouses C, H, K, Q, and I from floors 1-4 (though I think most came from 1-3). You can read all the technical details of this release here. Much to the chagrin of whiskey nerds like me, Buffalo Trace stopped sharing barrel counts for the Antique Collection in 2019. That gives us no basis to estimate bottle counts based on evaporation loss (which was higher in 2019 compared to 2018). Assuming barrel counts similar to the past couple of years, I would guess that the bottle count was probably in the 35,000 bottle range.
As is the case every year, this is not an easy bottle to find without paying exorbitant prices that I don’t believe are worth it. If you own a bottle, though, and haven’t tried it yet, here’s what you might experience when you open it.
|Nose||Black cherries, heavy vanilla, cinnamon, a deep oak that teases on being too tannic but never gets there, figs, burnt sugar, molasses. The age is very apparent here.|
|Taste||Wood smoke, lots of cherries, baking spice, plenty of toasted oak, a bit of heat, just a whisper of orange peel citrus, almond.|
|Finish||Dried dark fruit, clove, oaky vanilla, dark chocolate, nutmeg, Dr. Pepper, some nice balance here as oak and dried fruit fade slowly.|
|Overall Thoughts||What is it about 2019 GTS that has so many people turned off? That lack of intense heat and lower floor barrels allow for other flavors and especially the high age to come forward in a way that's outside the norm for GTS…in a good way. This isn't my favorite Stagg but it absolutely doesn't belong in the same conversation as Stagg Jr. If you see it in a bar, it's worth trying for sure.|