A good George T Stagg review will also serve as an introduction to the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. Each year, Buffalo Trace distillery releases five bottles of limited production whiskey. They vary in style, proof, and age, but are all exceptional expressions of American bourbon and rye. Even if you’re not familiar with the brand, the name may ring a bell.
George T. Stagg (alongside E.H. Taylor) built the foundation of a Kentucky bourbon empire that’s still operating today. What is now the Buffalo Trace Distillery bore Stagg’s name for the better part of the twentieth century. This George T Stagg review touches on the history of the brand, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, and highlights Instagram influencers’ opinions of the spirit.
History of George T Stagg
In the years since the Sazerac Company took ownership of the Buffalo Trace Distillery, they’ve created some of today’s most recognized and loved brands. Buffalo Trace is a reliable mid-grade bourbon that works equally well in cocktails and as a sipper. You can often find Blanton’s and Eagle Rare at a slightly higher price point for special occasions and bourbon aficionados.
Beyond these popular offerings, Buffalo Trace Distillery is also responsible for Pappy Van Winkle, the extra-aged wheated bourbon that resells for as much as $5,000/bottle. Besides the frenetic Pappy releases, each year they release the Antique Collection. The suggested retail price of a bottle of George T. Stagg is comfortably below $100/bottle. However, once allotments disappear from liquor stores, resellers will offer a single bottle for hundreds of dollars.
There are two histories here, that of the man George T. Stagg and of the bourbon created to celebrate his legacy. Stagg wasn’t a distiller; before the civil war, he worked as a shoe salesman. After fighting in the war he became a St. Louis whiskey salesman and spirits distributor. E.H. Taylor was a client of Stagg’s through the financial crisis of the late 19th century. At the end of the crisis, Stagg discovered that E.H. Taylor was guilty of fraud and indebted to him for what would be millions in today’s dollars.
Liquor Business Is A Serious Business
Instead of collecting the money owed, Stagg took over Taylor’s distilleries. He kept Taylor on as a business partner, because of his elevated reputation among other distillers and high-quality products. While the business relationship between the partners was strained, the distillery became profitable and expanded into the longest-operating distillery in the country.
The Sazerac Company bought what was then the George T. Stagg distillery in 1992, rebranding as Buffalo Trace. They brought back the head distiller, Elmer T. Lee, from retirement and rediscovered the old bourbon recipes. The company focused on making small batches of exceptional spirits.
These days, the distillery has over thirty unique brands and experiments in various states of aging. The Sazerac Company named two of the Antique Collection offerings for both men in the original partnership, Col E.H. Taylor and George T. Stagg. The first release of George T. Stagg came in 2002, long before bourbon became a cultural phenomenon. Since that initial release, the single barrel proofs range from 116 to a very fiery 144.
Our George T Stagg Review
Every year the bourbon tastes a little different. It’s known as a bold and hearty whiskey. The reputation comes from the fact it’s bottled at barrel proof, unfiltered, and undiluted. For genuine bourbon lovers, this is the best way to drink bourbon. It’s a perfect expression of the grain, distiller, and barrel age. All George T. Stagg ages for at least fifteen years. In that time, over half of the spirit evaporates, creating a high-proof, flavor-packed bourbon.
Because of these factors, such as aging in different warehouses, every bottle of George T. Stagg tastes different. Year to year, there are dramatic differences in the brand. For collectors, those changes are part of the fun of getting ahold of a bottle. You can count on George T. Stagg to be fiery at barrel strength with strong tasting notes from the barrel.
Both the 2017 and 2018 release had notes of dark chocolate, toffee, and tobacco. 2019, by contrast, was vanilla, cherries, black pepper, and a floral undertone. George T. Stagg will always be an excellent whiskey, regardless of specific tasting notes. It’s created by master distillers and aged to perfection.
While most Bourbon Road distilleries (such as Heaven Hill, Michter, and Redemption) release bottles that are aged twenty-plus years, you can’t always find the same quality. More time in the barrel doesn’t always equate to better bourbon. As more of the whiskey evaporates, the spirit may take on off-flavors. Extra-long exposure to wood can decimate a bourbon’s delicate notes.
Enthusiasts’ Opinions From Instagram
Posting a picture of a bottle of George T. Stagg on social media is a definite flex. The demand for the entire Antique Collection far outpaces the supply from Buffalo Trace. These influencers were all lucky enough to find a bottle, including one who collected a vertical of the spirit from 2013 to 2018. Tasting in verticals lets you understand both a spirit and a distiller better. Especially with a premier bourbon, like George T. Stagg, you get to see the influence subtle changes from year to year have on the spirit.
When Buffalo Trace releases the Antique Collection each year, they include an info sheet letting whiskey enthusiasts know about the specific conditions for each year, like the warehouse the bourbon aged in, who made the barrel, and how much of the barrel contents evaporated. Here are five Instagram accounts that love to fill a glass with George T. Stagg.
@bourbonfinds Celebrates with the Antique Collection
“Just opened a 2018 George T. Stagg to celebrate this beach trip. It did not disappoint. That lower proof is really fun. Gotta open em to enjoy them.”
We Agree with @fridaysdram
“The bourbon perfection! Powerful, furniture polish, chocolate, spices, dried fruits, strong and dry in taste with the longest finish – all that I love on bourbon. In spite of high 142.6 proof, it’s a smooth and easy drinkable. George T. Stagg 142.6 proof is the best bourbon, which I’ve tasted. An American classic!”
@bourbonculture Has a Rare Collection
“GTS vertical anyone? Just one is a rare sight! But 2013 through 2018 all on one table? Damn! 2014 narrowly misses out as my favorite because the 2016 HAZMAT leaves my mouth in bourbon Nirvana!”
@whisky_and_animation Found Nuance in the Heat
“…Crazy hot dram at 72.05 ABV 🥵 you can surely call this GEORGE T. STAGG barrel proof. But the more I got into it the more I really appreciated all the layers and nuances 😋…”
@bottles_and_bbq Doesn’t Mind the Price Tag
“I get really excited over this stuff and it’s so damned hard to exercise self-control when it comes to an open bottle of GTS. It’s one of the few bourbons that if I ran out, I’d probably pay a secondary price for more bottles and I’m not ashamed to admit it.”
Final Notes on George T Stagg Review
If you’re able to find a bottle at retail, it’s worth the investment to add to your home bar. However, demand outpaces supply at such a rate they’re often snatched up by resellers who make hundreds of dollars in profit. If you’re interested in the tasting but don’t have the time or money to invest in hunting down a full bottle, check out whiskey bars to see if it’s on their list. You’ll be able to taste the Antique Collection for less than a mortgage payment.
Have you been lucky enough to decant from the Antique Collection? What’s your favorite? Let us know in the comments!