This is the good batch, or rather THE Good Batch.
That’s what people say, anyway. Among the bourbon cognoscenti, certain iterations of familiar expressions are especially lauded. When fate smiles, when the selection of barrels is especially choice, or when the blender’s skill is preternaturally evident (and, perhaps, all three), we get these releases that quickly become legendary among those discerning connoisseurs who have tried enough to pick favorites.
This is especially the case in full proof bourbon whiskey, where we’re provided with specific identifying numbers to reference. For example, all the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof batches I have tried have ranged from very good to superb, but those in the know lavish particular affection on batch #A119. And while I certainly enjoyed the Wild Turkey Rare Breed 116.8 proof with an LL/HD code, the true authority on the matter confirmed that this was among the better iterations of that expression.
The subject of today’s review will be from just such a famous batch, and to say that my expectations are sky-high would be an understatement. For your consideration (but, really, my consideration), I now present the bourbon, the myth, the legend… Stagg Jr. Batch #14!
My previous dalliance with Stagg Jr. came when I picked up a bottle of Batch #10 nonchalantly. If you can believe it: I walked into a local shop where it was on the shelf for SRP and I paid for it. No secondary market pricing; no slimy feeling of buying from a flipper based on a DM, or from a wily retailer looking to boost his bottom line. Ah, the good old days… but I digress.
This first impression turned Stagg Jr. into an immediate personal favorite, not less so for being an outstanding bargain in the grand spectrum of bourbon whiskey. While I assiduously bought every bottle that I subsequently came across, I was not able to score a bottle of Batch #14. However, one of our generous supporters provided me with a sample of his bottle; thanks to Will for his continued kindness and friendship.
As I just told you a minute ago, this is from Batch #14, released in Summer 2020. It comes to us at 130.2 proof (60.1% ABV), making it closest to the average (130.5) of the 15 batches yet released (ranging from 126.4 to 134.4). SRP was $50, though as you might have guessed, not many bottles are still hanging around at that price. Without wasting another moment, I’m getting down to business:
Stagg Jr. Batch #14 – Taylor’s Review
Color: Medium-dark sandstone with carrot glints.
On the nose: Sweet and spicy, this begins with caramelized brown sugar in a dance with chili powder. There’s also more serious counterbalancing notes; I am getting a limestone-inflected minerality as well as some exotically green, leafy scents. Like all members of the Stagg family, this is outlandishly fun to nose and continues to present novel aromas at every sniff. Sarsaparilla, sandalwood incense, candied cherries, cardamom pods, and mesquite all make appearances, as well as a surprisingly airy scent of freshly whipped cream. In keeping with the manner of the best whiskeys, this contains multitudes but remains coherent in its totality.
In the mouth: My first impression is of a gorgeous flavor of ripe cherries that positively bursts as this approaches the middle of the tongue and carries on consistently all the way through the finish. It’s a wonderful note but I am afraid it has crowded out other aspects of this; I’m now taking a minute to drink some water, have a sip of black coffee, and re-set my palate.
Back now, to work through my progression: the first kiss on the lips yields yet another surprise, this time a sweet flavor of apple juice. There’s a radiant tingle that greets the teeth, gums, and tongue, but this is far less aggressively hot and alcohol-driven than prior batches of Stagg Jr. and, indeed, of George T. Stagg. That cherry note is evident again in the middle of the mouth, but this time it is balanced by a re-emergence of the stony note from the nose. These two intertwine in a delightful double helix and spiral away into evanescence for a solid minute.
This is the good batch. Rather, this is one of the better bourbon whiskeys I have ever had. It’s certainly the best I’ve ever had from Buffalo Trace, and there’s no shortage of competition in that category. The whiskey has all the elements I look for: there are lots of diverse aromas and flavors that emerge with individual intensity, yet this achieves a sense of balance throughout. The nose, as noted above, begs for compulsive sniffing. However, it’s on the palate where this bourbon really shows its mettle. There are many very good aspects and one truly great one, which joins my personal hall of fame of unforgettable flavors.
So, why is this not perfect whiskey? If you’ve read my prior meditations on those rare pours, you’ll recall that sense of transcendence that gripped hold of me and wouldn’t let go. This Stagg Jr. doesn’t quite achieve that, but it still beats the living daylights out of nearly all the rest of its competition. At SRP, this is one of the great all-time whiskey buys. As such, I’m happy to have had it and even happier to award it a score befitting that status.
Stagg Jr. Batch #14 – Jason’s Review
Color: tar life.
On the nose: an array of burnt characteristics like kindling, charcoal and cinder toffee. Plywood in places as well, ok, it is rather woody. Blackcurrant jam, faded cinnamon, chocolate digestive and orange pips. There’s a varnish dynamic with the high strength and rhubarb. Did I say woody? Also cherries, mint leaf and some blueberries laced in spray paint with toasted marshmallows to round off the trip. Adding water reveals more cherry notes, alcohol and wood polish,
In the mouth: very oily, charred oak and vanilla. Nutty as well and more of that cherrywood dynamic. A touch of menthol, red grapes and chocolate. Blueberries once again and wild brambles. A splash of water unlocks damp wood, sticky toffee pudding and milk chocolate, but be careful as it is a fragile thing.
This Stagg Jr. is a bit of a lout. I found the nose pleasant enough, but on the palate, there are shortcomings in terms of flavour and progression. Bold, brash and uncouth. I can appreciate the charms and flaws. In places I dig it, in others, it’s like a sister in bear mode – best avoided and rather aggressive. But it has piqued my interest enough to buy another batch.
This is now impossible to get at SRP (here in NYC area it’s about $200). I’ve had one of the earlier batches, one where you could’ve still picked it up from the shelf under $80. For me personally, was way too hot—-almost at Booker’s level. I think ECBP is probably a better VFM, since that’s still around for under $90. Not sure if ECBP is about the same ABV, but I also find that less fiery.
PB, that’s a real shame. There is some meaningful batch-to-batch variation on these; perhaps not as much as the George T. Stagg, but they’re definitely better and worse, in my experience. For as long as it lasts, ECBP under, say, $80 is probably the best of the truly high-proof offerings (Rare Breed and Maker’s Cask Strength are also excellent, but they tend to clock in closer to 110-120 proof). As always, cheers and GO BLUE!
Alas this particular batch eluded me, or rather – I foolishly allowed it to. The one time I saw in on the shelf I passed on it to pick up a Wild Turkey Revival (a worthy consolation) as I already had recently bought the vaunted batch 12 and it’s successor, batch 13. I now have 12, 13, and the latest batch 15 and so I’m curious – have you had any of these, Taylor, and how would you compare any or all of them to batch 14?
Thanks for the question, Frank. I have some of the other batches in the back of the cupboard but have not formally reviewed them, nor even opened them yet. As of now, I like this one better than the Batch #10, previously reviewed on this site. Folks I really respect speak highly of the Batch 12, so that’s another one to keep my eyes peeled for. Cheers!