I refer to the breakingbourbon.com website frequently in my reviews. It’s no secret they have created what I consider to be the benchmark for bourbon reviews in the increasingly crowded blogging landscape. So the fact that they had not reviewed any Stagg Jr. Batches since Batch 1 was a little confusing as this label has consistently been a highly sought after gem among more thrifty Buffalo Trace purists.
But late last year when they reviewed the Batch 12 release, it seemed almost incredulous that the website that always has their finger on the pulse of the bourbon world claimed that they pretty much ignored Stagg Jr. after its disastrous Batch 1 release. The batches continued to get better, with Batch 9 being a fan favorite and comparisons are constantly being made between Stagg Jr. and its competitor, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. It makes me confused as to how nobody had offered the guys at BB any of the previous 10 batches before they had this one.
Buffalo Trace did a strange thing with Batch 12
To get back on topic, Buffalo Trace did a strange thing with Batch 12. Whereas in previous years, Stagg Jr released a spring batch and fall batch, for 2019 the first batch came out in the fall. This led many to panic that Buffalo Trace was moving to 1 release per year. But what a release it was! It quickly earned almost universal accolades from the online reviewing community. Then, as if they had ice in their veins, Buffalo Trace cooly launched a second batch in December 2019 just to spit in the face of consumers that had cried foul that Buffalo Trace was now only releasing Stagg Jr. once per year.
I had found bottles of both Batch 12 and Batch 13 and opened them within weeks of each other. I also held off on this review for another 6 weeks because I wanted the airtime to calm them both down. Now that I’ve waited long enough, it’s time to put them together in a semi-blind side by side comparison to see which comes out on top. I sampled these neat and from a Glencairn.
Blind Glass 1
Nose: In typical Stagg Jr fashion, waves of sweet cherries, seasoned oak, and a little bit of slightly burned chocolate brownie fill my nostrils. The nose even smells a bit creamy, like marshmallow/caramel Modjeskas. It’s a very robust and powerful nose and I wouldn’t expect anything else from this label.
Palate: You’re not going to drink this barrel proof bottle and not get kicked in the face with the white peppercorn and smoldering spices that this dram has. There’s black cherry licorice, Christmas fruitcake and some peaches to give it that classic BT fruit taste. Then I detect semi-sweet chocolate chips and some nice oak. There’s also some rye spice that kicks up and gives off a little bit more of an herbal tone than Stagg Jr.’s I’ve had in the past. The mouthfeel is thick and oily with a sweetness of old fashioned hard caramel candies.
Finish: A powerful and strong finish to a drink that’s also been nothing but. Flat cherry cola, dark brown sugar and toffee add complexity and sweetness. But for a bottle that’s not exactly that old (some put the barrels used to make up Stagg Jr around 7-9 years old), there’s a decent amount of old leather and charred oak.
Blind Glass 2
Nose: The nose on this glass has a sweeter, slightly more delicate fruit nose than Glass 1. There’s more cherry and peach scents and also honeycomb for sweetness. The honeycomb turns into honey graham crackers as the dram goes on and I can also detect a nice caramel scent as well.
Palate: The palate on this one is so much more tame. The opening is cherries and a hefty wallop of orange zest. The heat isn’t lacking though, with both black and white peppercorns alternating between “hot” and “oh crap, this is hot”. Cinnamon spice and some oak give a nice layer of richness and the caramel sauce wraps everything up in a nice sweet and sticky layer.
Finish: The finish gives a nice complex layering of campfire pies with cherry pie filling, toasted orange peel and baking spices (cinnamon heavy). The tannins were all there rounding this one out with charred oak and tobacco leaf. Overall, this was pleasant with lots of depth.
Glass #1: Stagg Jr. Batch 13
Glass #2: Stagg Jr. Batch 12
Winner: Stagg Jr. Batch 13!
Wow! What a set of two awesome, yet somewhat different batches. This one was closer than I’m giving it credit for with the Batch 13 winning the day with it’s powerful intensity and the rewards it gave if you had patience with the heat. The Batch 12 was slightly more subdued (but knowing this is still Stagg Jr., that’s relative) but it’s still got all of the powerful flavors you can expect from any bottle of Stagg Jr. The Batch 13 was much more complex, with a woodier and spicier profile than Batch 12, that I gave it the victory in this comparison, but in regards to these two, you really can’t go wrong.
A note as to the skyrocketing secondary values on these: After the guys at Breaking Bourbon named Stagg Jr. Batch 12 as their whiskey of the year, the secondary market blew up and bottles of this batch that were typically going for $80 on secondary were now exploding to above $150. Many groups have also been directly comparing these Stagg Jr. Batches to the 2019 release of George T. Stagg, with some of the more eccentric types claiming that Stagg Jr. is just as good or better than GTS. Let me say that for the record, I don’t believe that for a minute.
There’s a lot of hate that is going towards the 2019 release of GTS due to the low proof and spot that the barrels were picked from the in the warehouses, but it’s still got the complexity and chutzpa that Stagg Jr.’s still don’t have. Stagg Jr. also comes out in enough quantity and quality year after year that I am upset that the secondary didn’t just increase the $80 value to $100, but that’s the age we live in. Please don’t overpay for these bottles if you are reading this, let’s all just calm down from the hype and if you didn’t manage to bag a Batch 12 (or even 13) then just hold on for Batch 14 and 15 this year. You’ll be delighted either way.
1 | Disgusting | Drain pour (Example: Jeffers Creek)
2 | Poor | Forced myself to drink it
3 | Bad | Flawed (AD Laws 4 Grain BiB, Clyde Mays anything)
4 | Sub-par | Many things I’d rather have (Tincup 10 year)
5 | Good | Good, solid, ordinary (Larceny, Sazerac Rye)
6 | Very Good | Better than average (Buffalo Trace, OGD BiB)
7 | Great | Well above average (Old Ezra Barrel Proof, Old Weller Antique)
8 | Excellent | Exceptional (Michter’s Barrel Proof Rye, Four Roses Barrel Strength)
9 | Incredible | Extraordinary (GTS, 13 Year MGP or Canadian Rye)
10 | Insurpassable | Nothing Else Comes Close (William Larue Weller)
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