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Here’s the new Stagg offspring, as reviewed by someone who’s not yet acquainted with the family patriarch. I’ve had a few chances to pick up a bottle of George T. Stagg, but I refuse to pay the mercenary prices (about $250) at the local store when they receive their supply of one or two bottles per year. The waiting list for a Stagg at Binny’s is such that I’ll probably be on a diet of Ensure and creamed corn by the time my name comes up. But I continue to be patient, with the confidence that the right price and moment will come along some day.
Word is that Stagg, Jr. will be released in small batches on a regular basis, and that each batch will be aged eight or nine years. No batch information on my bottle (unless it’s on the inside of the back label, in which case I’ll have to wait until the level goes down before I can read it.) Unlike the promotional pictures you’ll see, in which the whiskey appears to be almost orange in color, the real-life article is a deep mahogany brown.
So with no basis for comparing Sonny Boy to the Old Man, I’m rather impressed with Stagg Jr. It’s not perfect, and it’s more fiery than complex, but I’ll be buying another bottle once I’ve drained this one. Some early reviews have emphasized junior’s heat and urge adding water. I suggest the same, although I don’t mind starting a dram with a neat sip or two. But if you want more flavors beyond corn, vanilla, and fire, add some water. For me, it’s been a bit of a challenge to get the amount of water just right. With such a powerful heat punch, it’s surprisingly easy to drown. Experiment with a drop at a time.
Nose: Sampled neat, it’s rather mild for such strong stuff. Pretty one-dimensional as well: mostly wood and sticky dark fruits. With just a few drops of water, I get vanilla, cinnamon, loads of wood, and a touch of corn-on-the-cob boiling in the pot. Radical changes with just a little water, in other words.
Palate: I tried my first sip neat and it was like a corn roast at the flaming gates of hell (but I enjoyed it!). Then I made the mistake of adding a full teaspoon of water—and with such heat, that amount seemed a reasonable guesstimate—but the result was just watery sweetness with a hint of wood. For my second dram, I added one drop at a time and determined that three drops results in maximum flavor with just the right touch of sting. Cherry hard candy, cinnamon, maple, rye, corn, cloves, and, again, plenty of sweet wood. The same flavors carry on in the finish as more wood and a little mint emerge. I just wish it were a little stronger at the fadeout.
In all, Stagg Jr. is a tricky one to pin down. Again, the water issue adds to the confusion. It seems to tame some things that need taming as well as some things that don’t. But it’s as good as or better than any other $50 bourbon in my cabinet, and for that I’m not complaining. I've got a few minor gripes, but I think it's quite delicious nonetheless.