Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Born in the USA Part 1- Stagg Party

For August, and maybe even into September, we move back to the USA for a series on American whiskies. As team USA battles for Olympic gold, we will review a slew of Bourbons as well as a few other American offerings.

The first whiskey post I ever did on Recent Eats was about Bourbon and, more specifically, the great Bourbons available from Buffalo Trace, one of the most innovative and high quality whiskey distilleries in the world.

The piece de resistance of the Buffalo Trace line is the renowned George T. Stagg, a Bourbon that whiskey lovers throughout the world covet. The only thing higher than Stagg's ratings is its alcohol content. The bottle I reviewed last year was the 2005 version which weighed in at a hefty 65.9% alcohol. I thought that version was overly alcoholic, but the 2007 bottling, nicknamed the hazmat, is a startling 72.4%.

The 2005 was a bit much for me back then, and I complained about the lack of integration of flavors with the high alcohol content. Interestingly, I like this even higher alcohol version better, but it may be because I am adding more water to it (you just can't drink it straight at 72.4%) than I proportionally added to the earlier Stagg.

I'm out of the earlier Stagg so I can't do a side by side, so it's hard to tell whether the difference is in me or the liquor. This illustrates one of the inherent flaws in whiskey ratings (and is one of the reasons I don't "score" whiskies). If you aren't tasting samples side by side, the only thing you have to go on in determining whether any given whiskey is better than the next is your memory. While you may have a good memory, or even use written notes to remind you, comparing a live sample to a remembered one from months or years back is iffy at best. So, notwithstanding my statement above, I'll try to avoid direct comparisons and just review this whiskey for what it is. Let's call this the post-structuralist theory of tasting...we will analyze only within the text of the whiskey itself. (I believe it was Roland Barthes who said, "The death of the distiller is the birth of the drinker" or something like that).


George T. Stagg, Limited Edition Barrel Proof (Buffalo Trace) 72.4% abv, approx. $55.

Nose is beautiful and Bourbony with smoke and Cognac and wood paneling from an old library; adding water leads to the detection of anise notes deep down. Flavor starts sweet, then you get the oak and corn and faint rye, some smoke and back to sweet on the finish.

Stagg is, as almost everyone agrees, a great whiskey and one I keep coming back to. It has a complexity that is beyond most of its peers and a flavor that just keeps giving. It only comes out once per year and gets snatched up pretty quickly, so you've got to be on your toes to get some. Locally, it's appeared at K&L in Hollywood and Wine House in West LA.

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