13 May 2009
My colleague recently wrote about Buffalo Trace bourbon, made at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. Before it was renamed in 1999, it was called the George T. Stagg Distillery, which is now the name of a limited production bourbon that Buffalo Trace releases annually.
Stagg is a beast of a bourbon, bottled at full cask strength and unfiltered from barrel to bottle. While the exact strength varies with each annual release, the bourbon is noted for its high proof, with some people even referring to it as “Hazmat” because it is illegal to transport on airplanes due to its high alcohol content (and thus flammability).
In order to create Stagg, Buffalo Trace ages the bourbon in traditional charred oak barrels for 15 to 16 years. Then, without filtering, they mix all the barrels from each vintage (89, according to one account) and sell bottles for around $60 each.
The bottle I sampled was from the 2008 release, which was bottled at 141.8 proof (70.9% ABV). As you might imagine, the high proof is a defining characteristic. Think of it this way: Since this bourbon isn’t cut with water like most, it’s twice as much bourbon flavor as nearly the same amount of more traditional 80 proof Kentucky bourbon.
That strength gives off a seriously strong spicy oak aroma with caramel notes. The color is a deep brown mahogany with a slightly cloudy hue due to its unfiltered nature.
The dominant taste corresponds with the nose, with an intense cedar spice. Underneath you’ll find a syrupy combination of blackcurrant, unsweetened chocolate, and a hint of apple. The finish is spicy, long, and wheaty.
I’d suggest preparing the Stagg neat, then adding water (use spring or distilled water as opposed to low-grade tap water) to dilute it to taste. I’ve found that just a few drops of water opens up this bourbon perfectly without diluting its powerful nature.
With that intensity, you’ll need a full-bodied cigar. Chocolaty and cedary cigars particularly come to mind with some examples being the Alonso Menendez, Fuente Sun Grown, Bolivar Royal Corona, Tatuaje Black, and Davidoff Maduro R. But really any favorite full-flavored cigar will go well.
Ultimately, not everyone will enjoy the unadulterated intensity of George T. Stagg, especially those who like their bourbon sweet and smooth. Still, this is a special bourbon that every true bourbon lover should try at least once.
photo credit: Stogie Guys