August 10, 2013

Review: Stagg Jr., Colonel E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof, and Elijah Craig Barrel Proof - Battle of Three Barrel Proof Beasts

We're Up All Night To Get Lucky

There's a new game in town.  From the legendary George T Stagg bourbon that rocks the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection every year comes a new, young, barrel proof offspring called Stagg Jr.  It's not on the shelves yet.  Stores are lining up to get half a dozen bottles.  We got lucky.

Queue soundtrack =>

New Stallion in Town?

Sadly the days of finding George T. Stagg, Pappy, and AH Hirsch on the shelves are long gone.  Could Stagg Jr be the prodigal son?  The little brother who rises to great heights?  The Eli Manning, the Serena Williams of the family, ready to step up and take the championship?  We put it to the test against our other two favorite barrel proof beasts.


Colonel E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof (NAS) 67.25%, 134.5 proof  $75.99
Stagg Jr. ("nearly a decade") 67.20%, 134.4 proof  $49.99
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (12 Years) 67.1%, 134.2 proof  $39.99

Let's break it down and see how they do.


ECBP:  Dr. Pepper.

Taylor:  Honest Tea.

Stagg:  Chamomile.

Winner:  ECBP is the darkest.  (Stagg looks extremely dark in the bottle because it's got a strategically placed black label on the back).


Stagg: Crushed pepper, bitter orange rind, blue cotton candy, canned corn.  Hot and heady.

Taylor: Way more refined.  Far less hot than the Stagg.  Sweet honey, tangerines, herbals - mint, maybe tarragon/rosemary or some other leafy spice.  Clove cigarettes.

ECBP: Cinnamon, roasted pecans, smoky pork, oiled leather.

Winner: Elijah Craig wins the nose hands down.

Body (neat)

Granted this is masochism, but it's important to see which is most drinkable neat...

Taylor: Very drinkable.  More heat than burn.  Shockingly un-painful at 134.5 proof.

Stagg: Way rougher than the Taylor.  This is rocket fuel w/o water.

ECBP:  Very smooth and rich, also stunningly drinkable at full test.  Cherries, Luden's cough drops, but a little less balance than the Taylor.

Winner: Taylor wins the neat taste test.

Body (w/ a dozen eye-dropper drops of water & 10 minutes in the glass)

Stagg: Opens up much nicer than the nose.  Now we're getting tastes of old man Stagg.  Big bold taste backed by the oak and char.  Rich raisins and sweet peaches.  Still raw and hot.

ECBP:  Not much change with the water.  Very nice spice.  Hint of licorice.  Cherries.  Woody.

Taylor:  Solid delicious bourbon here.  Spice, spirit warmth, molasses sweetness all coming together in a musky, cologne, oiled leather drinkability.

Winner:  Tie between the Taylor and the ECBP.  Taylor is more refined and balanced, Elijah has more richness and body.


Stagg:  Massive chest warmth and throat burn.  Robusto cigar smoke on the breath.  Chili peppers on the tongue.  It's still showing the youth and breathing fire through the water, but it's a lively and fresh powerful blast of whiskey.

ECBP: The finish is the worst part of this whiskey.  A bitterness creeps up, over-sour cherry skin, maybe a rough oak cask taste.  It's got all the elements of a nice finish but they don't come together right.  The wood doesn't cancel out the burn and the sweetness doesn't compliment the spice.

Taylor:  It's kind of "all in" with the Taylor.  The wood flavor comes out but doesn't overpower.  The sweetness and spice combine into a nice round punch.  It's by far the smoothest finish with a nice long lingering campfire-stone smokiness.

Winner:  The Taylor wins again for finish.


Best Value:  For the money we give the award to the Elijah Craig.  At half the price of the Taylor, it's a very impressive beast.  It's way smoother than the Stagg Jr, has a lot more spice, and is easily some of the best valued juice we've seen in a long time.  It has a similar flavor profile as Pappy 23 year, with lots of wood snap and a dry spicy crisp crack.

Best Overall:  Without considering money, the Colonel E.H. Taylor takes the prize.  It's not quite as dark and rich as the ECBP, but with just a few drops of water it's simply delicious.  The best all around balance, and honestly this is the closest whiskey to the original George T Stagg.  A huge ballsy beast that hits you in the chest but gives you that thick, sweet, nutty, smoky, rich awesomeness that you will be thinking about the next day.

No ribbon for Stagg Jr?  We're going to let this bottle open up for a few days and suffer through another greatest hits tasting.  After all, the first time we had George T Stagg we'd never tasted anything at that proof before, and it took some getting used to.  It turned out to be an all-time favorite.  Also it's worth noting that we'd still go out and buy another bottle of this for safe-keeping if it was available.  We're talking best-of-the-beast here and although it we couldn't give it gold or silver, bronze in this competition is nothing to sneeze at.  It's a big, spicy, hot, punchy new friend that has found a welcome place on the shelf.

We're up all night 'til the sun
We're up all night to get some
We're up all night for good fun
We're up all night to get lucky


Update:  Ok, so we put the Stagg Jr. in the decanter, let it air out for a few days, added some different amounts of water (up to 50%), let those air out, and have basically given it every benefit of the doubt.  Sadly we can't get behind this.  A beast it is!  But not a beast that we really care to drink.  The nose and body have some interesting flavors, but it's just so hot and burning that it's not easy to drink.  We love Buffalo Trace and really had high hopes for this one, but sadly it's getting a SmokyBeast "C-".


  1. Thank you for the early review and comparison! So how were you able to get an early bottle of the Stagg Jr.?

  2. Like we said, sometimes you get lucky. In this case we asked a store manager who had half a case in the back room that hadn't been put on the shelves yet. He only was allotted 6 bottles for the whole store, so this does seem to be a limited release... Good hunting!

  3. Agree with the EH Taylor. A bartender in Chicago turned me on to this at Big Star when I fell in love with Stagg but then felt the heartbreak of availability. I am trying to get some Stagg with this fall release but you never know. I did find several bottles of EH Taylor Barrel Proof at Binny's in Chicago (they ship!). It is extremely fruity, sweet and balanced and although most bourbons I prefer neat, even at this proof, this one is wonderful with a splash.

  4. Thanks for the head to head. Interesting thoughts on all if them.

    First had the EH Taylor awhile ago as LQ store sample. Ended up buying something else.

    Have a bottle of Stagg Jr that has yet to be cracked, but just had a LQ store sample yesterday. Definitely not a fair shake, but it was great even in a lil plastic pee cup.

    Been working on my ECBP bottle. Easily the hottest bourbon that has ever opened the olefactory gates in my head. It's like wasabi! The mid palate is delish lasting a good 15 seconds. Lots of good stuff in there. But the finish, you pretty much nailed it. It's not bad, but leaves a little more to be desired.

    Paid $45 w/ tax for my ECBP and have one more for back up. This is the second release at 68.5%. They've been popping up around town here again in early October so I'm not worried I won't be able find another. Easily the best value bourbon of the year.

  5. Love EH Taylor. Thanks for the review!

  6. Any thoughts on the second release (128 proof) of Stagg Jr. I had the opposite result with decanting the 134 proof initial release. It tamed down and was enjoyable with ice. That being said, the second release is now on sale in PA state liquor stores, and no one seems to be interested. I guess the bad vibes from the first release are still lingering.

    1. Have not tried the second batch. I guess this one is very different from person to person. We didn't care for it no matter what we did, but some people seem to dig it. May be barrel / batch variation, different palates, who knows. If you pick one up let us know how it turns out...