Buffalo Trace: George T Stagg (USA: Bourbon Whiskey: 65.2% ABV)

Visual: A darker bronzed gold, with more orange gold hints. Thin slow puckering comes from the spirit.

Nose: Heavy. Rye crackers. Wisp of smoke. Dry. Dry treacle. Touch. Chilli seed. Paprika. Burnt brown sugar.

Body: Thick, Oily. Gets fiery quickly. Strawberry touch. Very drying. Water adds a tiny touch more of the strawberry, Quite oily. Almost a hop oil feel but not flavour. Brown bread.

Finish: Oily. Charred touch. Spicy. Chilli seeds. Nutmeg. Mulled spice. Touch of greenery. A touch of water adds tannins and fatty notes.

Conclusion: Unsurprisingly for the abv, this is freaking massive. It has a fiery touch, which, again is not unexpected, but there is a lot more than that. When you sip it rapidly evaporates, drying and desiccating your mouth, and leaves behind a real chilli seed spicy tingling character that fires up that now sensitive tongue.

Neat it is so very harsh, with a treacle character that still comes across as very dry and spicy. So, for the first time in this tasting session’s notes I added water, and boy did it make it a lot more manageable. Now it has an oily thick feel that allows it to very mildly sooth your mouth to manage the heavy spice and burning, and so you can finally appreciate that wide spice expression more fully.

With this just a drop of water this still has really heavy, dark and charred notes, but no longer harshly so. It has as more neutral, savoury bready character at the base to work from, oiliness for the grip and the spice doing the main show. There is even an almost smoke touch, but not in a traditional peaty way, just an edge note from the spice. There are now even hints of softer notes at the edges, nothing I could quite get a grip on though. Possibly they would develop with more water, or if I had a better handle on the high abv but as it was they were just hints of more that may be there but I could not really describe.

It is formidable and challenging. In a way it feels like the Islay of bourbons. Not in direct flavour, peat or Island character but in that it has those challenging, heavy flavours that take time to get used to and are definitely an acquired taste.

More intriguing than enjoyable for me, but I can see the appeal for others.

Background: So, it has been about a year and half since Independent Spirit did one of their whisky tastings. For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on right now, probably something small and unimportant. So they opened with this – a six USA whiskey, predominately bourbon, rare as hell set of a tasting. Joking aside, I was nervous about going, due to, well covid and not wanting to be a virus spreader, but it was held in the well ventilated, covered back area of Wolf Saloon, which had a decent amount of room as well, so I thought I would give it a go as part of my attempt to return to being social in this new world. Of the six whiskeys I had already done notes on two, and this was the fifth whisky of the evening. While not a straight rye, this apparently has a moderate amount of rye to it, making it the first bourbon to have a different mash load of the evening – with the various Van Winkles and the Weller all starting from the same mash load out. While most of the bourbons I had neat as bourbon often doesn’t take water well, this was the first one where I had to add a drop as it was too massive for me neat. Chris from Independent Spirit did give a lovely amount of info on the naming background of each whiskey, but I will admit due to alcohol I have forgot most of the fine details. Basically George T Stagg was a big name, so the whiskey is named after him.