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Stagg Batch 23B Review

Stagg Batch 23B Review

This review is coming in hot off the heels of an article I recently wrote titled The Decline of Stagg (Jr).” In it, I argue that ever since Buffalo Trace dropped the “Jr” from their popular Stagg Jr line, that something has changed. No longer does it taste like it previously did. It’s lost the fruit notes and the small amount of maturity they once had. Whatever the change has been, it hasn’t been for the best.

Stagg is still the lowest priced option for getting barrel proof bourbon from Buffalo Trace. Its MSRP hasn’t gone up much from when it first came out. Check out the control states that still list the price as $50 and you’ll understand that this is quite the deal… if you can find it, that is.

Stagg Jr racked up awards and accolades ever since 2014 when it was entered into its first spirits competitions. Some of the more famous batches included Batch 9 (the one that set enthusiasts in a frenzy) and Batch 12 (which won Breaking Bourbon’s “Bourbon of the Year” award). Batches 15 through 17 were no slouches, either. To man, they were underrated stars.

Buffalo Trace drops the “Jr”

Batch 18 introduced us to a bottle that no longer wore the Jr and also seemed like it changed its profile. To me (and many others), Stagg Jr used to focus on cherries, chocolate, oak and caramel. Now the focus seems to be more on chocolate, leather and baking spices. From Batch 18 until present day, the batches also seem to exhibit a more earthy taste with many arguing that comes from younger barrels.

How young could it be? Buffalo Trace is notoriously tight-lipped about the ages of their Non-Age Stated products, but for years the consensus was that Stagg (Jr) was created from 7-to-9-year-old barrels; just like Buffalo Trace was.

That makes sense because Buffalo Trace has previously entered Stagg Jr into the San Francisco World Spirits Competition under the category “Small Batch Bourbon 6-10 Years Old.” Curiously, they entered Stagg Jr into the “Small Batch Bourbon Up To 5 Years Old” category in 2017 and 2018. It could be then be assumed that Stagg Jr had a portion of the blend using barrels as young as 5-years-old. Could that still be the case today?

After Batch 17, things changed

Ever since the release of Batch 18, Stagg’s overall profile doesn’t seem to be as full of flavor as it once were. Other reviewers (including myself) have found more recognizable “youthful” notes as well. This leaves some to speculate that the barrels going into each batch are younger than ever. The best case scenario is that they’re not young and that maybe barrels are being selected from different spots in the warehouse. Or maybe the tasters are picking a different profile of barrel entirely.

Whatever it is, Stagg has changed. I personally haven’t gone out of my way to find any of the batches since Batch 17 which dropped in 2020. But I still cross my fingers with each new batch that the profile will go back to the way it once was. Recently, I’ve got my hands on a Batch 23B and am checking in to see if it’s more of the same or if it’s fixed. Let’s dive in. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Nosing the glass reveals a note packed with baking spice notes to include cinnamon, nutmeg and nutmeg (is that a spice?). I even find a note similar to coffee grounds. It all seems a bit rye-forward for a mash bill that’s traditionally very low in rye. Tannins leave their mark with some oak, varnish and chocolate notes. I want to make it clear that these characteristics don’t come off as old or very mature. There’s still a small amount of youthfulness in here.

Palate: The tongue has that fire that most of us immediately connect to the Stagg Jr brand. I’m tasting cinnamon, oak spice and baking spices. Baker’s chocolate, varnish and leather give each sip a very dark dimension while a hint of earthiness makes my mouth wonder if some of those 5 year old barrels snuck in here. I also find some lighter vanilla notes and a very faint “musty grape” flavor which I’ve found in greater quantities in certain single barrels of Eagle Rare. It’s one of my favorites.

Finish: Plenty of residual heat towards the end, but that’s to be expected with the high proof. The lingering notes center around oak spice and dark chocolate. The finish also becomes fairly dry and earthy. Baking spices add a bit of flavor with ground cinnamon and allspice. And while I wouldn’t call the finish lacking in sweetness, I do notice how much less sweet it is than many of the batches of Stagg Jr I’ve had in the past. 

Score: 7.5/10

While much of my introduction to this bottle seemed to hint that a disappointing score was coming, I don’t think that this is a particularly bad bourbon. I still stand by the fact that it’s lost a lot of what made it great in the past, but I know some enthusiasts that find this new profile to be very appealing.

In a way, the new profile does lean more towards that of George T. Stagg due to the reduction of fruit notes in favor of ones that concentrate on dark, rich flavors. These give the impression of a much more mature bourbon even though it doesn’t come off that way.

Now Stagg carries more leather and chocolate than ever before, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it is lacking in cohesiveness where each flavor comes at you on its own, rather than building up the experience together.

Final Thoughts

I think one of the things that worked so well with Stagg Jr in the past is that it seemed like its own product. It didn’t taste like anything else Buffalo Trace had put out in barrel proof form. Even EH Taylor Barrel Proof releases tasted completely separate even though they shared the same mash bill and age. But Batch 23B shows me that the profile is now more of a “Junior” to George T. Stagg than it ever was before. I think Buffalo Trace thought that’s something we all wanted, so they went ahead and changed it. But after tasting it, I kind of want my old friend back. This new one isn’t as fun or exciting as the old one was.

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