Comparison: Buffalo Trace / Stagg Jr / George T. Stagg

BUFFALO TRACE
Single Barrel #592 picked by Maison Corbeaux’s Single Barrel Project (2019)

MASH BILL – Buffalo Trace mash bill #1

PROOF – 90

AGE – NAS (rumored 7 to 10 years)

DISTILLERY – Buffalo Trace

PRICE – $29

STAGG JR
Batch #11 (2018)

MASH BILL – Buffalo Trace mash bill #1

PROOF – 127.9

AGE – NAS (rumored 8 to 10 years)

DISTILLERY – Buffalo Trace

PRICE – $65 (more often $80 to $90)

GEORGE T. STAGG
Fall 2018

MASH BILL – Buffalo Trace mash bill #1

PROOF – 124.9

AGE – 15 years 4 months

DISTILLERY – Buffalo Trace

PRICE – $124 (Though good luck finding it near that. I was lucky.)

Buffalo Trace is one of the most common and affordable bourbons available. Stagg Jr. is basically Buffalo Trace at barrel proof, unfiltered, perhaps with another year or two under its belt, and released twice annually. Take junior, double its age, and you get George T. Stagg, a roughly 15-year barrel proof bourbon released in relatively small quantities every Fall under the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection rubric.

Here are my basic comparison notes of all three:

COLOR 

Buffalo Trace – pale yet rich yellow amber 

Stagg Jr – medium caramelized amber 

George T. Stagg – slightly darker caramelized amber 


NOSE 

Buffalo Trace – bright apple and creamy caramel

Stagg Jr – drier apple and caramel 

George T. Stagg – dry like junior, but balanced with cream, and some cherry amongst the apple and caramel


TASTE 

Buffalo Trace – salty, creamy vanilla-caramel on crisp apple slices  

Stagg Jr – tangy rich caramel, baked apple, with a peppery splash at the end

George T. Stagg – creamy up front, then cherry and apple pie, ending with a gentle peppery-caramel splash

 
FINISH 

Buffalo Trace – warm, light, salty caramel, lingering gently with faint pepper

Stagg Jr – warm, rich, lingering long with cream, cooked apple, and the mildly numbing pepper slowly cooling

George T. Stagg – the finish that never ends! With all the flavors hanging out together and chatting…


OVERALL 

Buffalo Trace – ready to roll, with a great sense of curiosity 

Stagg Jr – more experienced, with a serious sense of fun 

George T. Stagg – mature, and a good conversationalist


BUY AGAIN?

Buffalo Trace – The standard bottling? No. But a good, unfiltered single barrel store pick? Yes, if I don’t already have another on the shelf. 

Stagg Jr – Yes, at a good price and if I don’t already have one on the shelf.

George T. Stagg – Absolutely, but never for much more than msrp. (Which means I won’t be getting this often!) 

I was never a great fan of the standard Buffalo Trace namesake bourbon, finding it too apple juicy sweet and flippant. Another Single Barrel Project pick (#104 from 2018) was quite good, but didn’t yet make me a Buffalo Tracer. And still another 2018 pick, “Batch #5” from Save More (an unassuming corner store on McAllister in San Francisco) did little to add to what the standard Buffalo Trace bottling already accomplishes.

My first experience of Stagg Jr. was one of the 2016 batches—either #6 or #7—a shot of which I ordered at a bar. It hit me in the face like the antlers on its label, and seemed intent to batter my mouth around. I wrote Stagg Jr. off as “over-rated.” I was then surprised when I tasted Batch #11 at a friend’s house and found it less wild and far more focused.

I was given a sample of the 2016 George T. Stagg by a bartender in Portland, OR. I liked it a lot. It was not until 2018 that I found a bottle priced close to msrp, rather than the more typical $400-to-$800 range. I uncorked it alongside my friend’s aforementioned Stagg Jr. Batch #11. Like junior, papa Stagg did not disappoint! The finish never ended upon the bottle’s uncorking, and it still doesn’t end now as I sadly reach this bottle’s final pours.

All three are more than worthy of a place on the home shelf. The George T. Stagg is exquisite with its nicely balanced cherry and apple flavors, rich creamy caramel, modest but confident pepperiness, and extraordinarily long and flavorful finish. Yet Stagg Jr. Batch #11 holds its own alongside its senior counterpart. Given junior is far more readily available, and cheaper, I can imagine being perfectly happy with it as a high-end staple should I never again manage to obtain the ridiculously scarce Stagg $enior.

And for its great low price, a reputable Buffalo Trace store pick will always be a worthy gamble. I don’t imagine I’ll ever make the standard Buffalo Trace bottling a constant on my shelf. But I’ll be more than happy to try Single Barrel Project’s next pick. (See also my notes elsewhere on this barrel #592.)

It’s all a matter of taste, as always. Luckily, one’s sense of taste is a protean thing, morphing over time. So it’s always possible to be surprised. The Buffalo Trace line has grown on me. It can be difficult to not allow the distillery’s frustrating penchant for allocating its most popular labels—Weller, Van Winkle, the annual Antique Collection—to weigh on my experience of what the Buffalo Trace mash bill #1 bottles have to offer. I’ve never believed “objectivity” to be anything more than an intellectual concept that does not actually exist in our lived experience. Knowing the price of a given bottle, the story behind it, its availability, these things do indeed impact taste.

This is why blind tastings can be so useful and revealing. Take away the label and any other surrounding knowledge, assess a whiskey purely on its sensorial attributes, and one might get closer to this state we call “objective.” The results will still be a matter of subjective chemistry. And the material consideration of money will always be a reality for most of us—even if we ignore it momentarily. But at least the details outside the juice itself won’t have had their sway.

Maybe one day I’ll blind test these same bottles. If I do I’ll add an epilogue here. Until then, I recommend them if you can find them.

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