Friday, November 4, 2011

George T. Stagg

stats: Kentucky Straight Bourbon, 141.4 proof, no age statement, $70

While I was researching my last post, I came across an interesting bit of information that resolved a longstanding conundrum. I restrained myself from expounding on it at the time because I have a bad habit of going off on tangents, which could easily turn a good blog post into a rambling diatribe if I’m not careful.

Years ago, I had read about heavily aged (40 to 50 years) single malt Scotches, which needed to be bottled before they dropped below the legal minimum alcohol content of 80 proof (Scotch typically goes into the barrel around 127 proof). I knew that aging whiskies lost 2% to 3% of their volume annually to evaporation. This loss is commonly referred to as the “Angel’s Share”. If the proof of the whisky was dropping significantly over the years, obviously it was primarily alcohol that was evaporating out of the barrel.

Then, a few years ago, I finally managed to hunt down a bottle of the elusive George T. Stagg. This is a beast of a Bourbon, bottled at a whopping barrel proof of 141.4 (the bottle I have is from the 2009 release, and the proof changes from year to year, with somewhere in the low 140’s being typical). But wait, by law Bourbon cannot go into the barrel for aging above 125 proof. So, how was it that the proof of this whiskey could increase during the aging process, while at the same time other whiskies were known to decrease in proof while in the barrel?

And this question lingered on in the back of my mind, until last week. While I was poking around the web, trying to make sure I had my facts straight on the details of barrel aging, and I came across this paragraph in a wikipedia article. Finally, the enduring enigma had been resolved.

Although the bottle carries no age statement, most releases of Stagg are said to be aged in the neighborhood of 15 years. This Bourbon is an incredibly dark shade of amber, looking almost black in the bottle if there is limited light behind it. The nose is dense, and while being quite aromatic, it is also highly alcoholic. Nose with caution. Modest sips are recommended, as the intense flavor and alcoholic heat battle for dominance on the palate. It has incredible density and intensity of flavor, with notes of dry spice, polished leather, and roasted nuts coming to the fore. In spite of its brute force, it is actually incredibly drinkable when you consider its amazingly high proof. It actually becomes even easier to drink after the palate is broken-in by the first few sips. If you are going to consider yourself a serious Bourbon connoisseur, the Stagg is something which must be sought out and experienced.

George T. Stagg (along with the rest of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection) is released in late September every year. They sell quickly, but with a little persistence and some luck you may still be able to hunt down a bottle from the 2011 edition.

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