With George T. Stagg bourbon canceled for 2021, many collectors and consumers are scrambling to find older releases to hold themselves over until 2022. But if you’re considering doing the same, be warned: the mad dash to get a bottle in hand is already underway. When the much sought-after Buffalo Trace Antique Collection was confirmed to be down a bottle for 2021, the secondary market hunt jumped into gear for any and all previous releases of George T. Stagg bourbon.
Buffalo Trace announced last week that George T. Stagg would not be released for the 2021 batch, citing quality concerns—that the whiskey set aside for this bottle was simply not ready for bottling.
The whiskey has a cult following, but that following is born mostly out of Buffalo Trace’s decision to name great whiskey after an iconic steward of the distillery’s long history.
George T. Stagg was born in 1835 in Kentucky. He served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and later moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he began a sales relationship with E.H. Taylor, Jr. that ended with Stagg purchasing Taylor’s O.F.C. Distillery from him when Taylor’s finances tanked. O.F.C. later took Stagg’s name, before it eventually became Buffalo Trace Distillery.
His namesake whiskey has been released 20 times, including a second “Spring” release in 2005. It has won countless awards and accolades over the years.
The 2020 release consisted of barrels filled in spring 2005 from warehouses L, K, and Q. We managed to track down last year’s sample, which was bottled at an immense 130.4 proof.
The typical cinnamon and caramel notes and a hint of cherry were apparent on the nose; but on the palate, crisp intonations of sweet cherry syrup, hints of smoke, black coffee, and vanilla were softened by a big, herbal note and prominent hints of raw sugar and varnish. It’s truly delicious—but at what price?
There’s always the question of money. If you have a lot of it, you can probably skip this part, but for those of us with a fixed bourbon budget, previous Stagg releases might be out of your reach—and getting worse.
Here’s something for consideration: At the start of this year, a recent vintage of George T. Stagg would have run you approximately $700, plus or minus $50. Prices always go up—even a month ago, George T. Stagg 2020 and 2019 were hovering around $800—but anything above that would’ve arguably been highway robbery.
In the last week, however, the price has snowballed. At the time of this writing, bottles were being advertised for $1,100, with buyers in consideration. A 50 percent overnight increase in price is astounding, even amid this year’s ongoing, economy-wide inflation issues.
It gets worse if you’ve been in search of older vintages. A bottle of the original release from 2002 was advertised by one seller over the weekend at an even $5,000—well above current prices for recent Pappy Van Winkle bottles.
Remember again: This is a $99 MSRP bottle and, while secondary market prices are typically high for Buffalo Trace whiskeys, these 10x increases are frankly ridiculous for the average drinker, unless they’re a very intense fan of the Stagg Brand.
The bottom line: this isn’t a time where your money will be well spent. Even if whiskey prices never “pop” in a bubble, it’s hard to believe this isn’t artificially high. Instead, this is a good time to look outside the Stagg family, since $1,100 can get you a case of fantastic bourbons from across the industry, and distilleries like Frey Ranch, New Riff, Wild Turkey and plenty of others are producing great liquids (at much more reasonable prices).
At our last look, $1,100 will get you a bottle of the Booker’s 30th release from several years ago.
We’re not directing you away from Buffalo Trace either. This year’s BTAC did have some gems, including the 101 proof Eagle Rare 17 Year, which was created from whiskey distilled in 2002, and has a similar profile of cherries, coffee, an herbal spike of spearmint, and layer after layer of sweet oak.
We’ve compiled lists of other distilleries worth checking out, including this year’s 10 to watch, and there are plenty more where that came from.
The most important concern, though, is counterfeits. Even if you do feel comfortable paying a thousand bucks for a bottle right now, every counterfeiter on the market is currently focused on meeting the Stagg demand that Buffalo Trace could not. They’re good at it, and fakes can be hard to spot, even with expertise.
So while we normally accept that buying on the secondary market is a necessary evil, take our advice: Sit this one out, expand your world instead, and we’ll all try this again in 2022.
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