Happy Holidays! This was an unexpected treat:
The very generous Sku (of Sku's Recent Eats) provided me with a sample of his sample of "DougDogz" Old Scout 8 year old Bourbon a few months ago. I had first tried it during a very bourbony evening, enjoying it more than some of my favorite dusties, and then waxing romantic over its quality. When planning this post, I was left with the happy quandary of what I was going to taste with it in order to gain perspective. I chose last year's Stagg Sr., upon which I've already lavished praise. But in the process of the nosing and the tasting, I actually gained a considerable amount of perspective on the Stagg instead.
The "DougDogz" moniker refers to Doug Phillips, a bonzai buff and professional glazier who became a whiskey aficionado icon due to his personal selection of historic (and now almost mythical) casks of rye and bourbon from Drew Kulsveen's (Willett) warehouse, six to eight years ago. For more information, I recommend Sku's two posts (part 1 and part 2) about Doug and his whiskies. Don't worry, they're not TL;DR pieces (unlike mine) thanks to Sku's succinct style.
Recently, Willett ended its private barrel selection program, likely due to decreasing supply and/or the desire to hold onto the gems for their own official releases. So Doug went elsewhere to find a honey barrel. And he found it at Smooth Ambler's warehouse. Smooth Ambler has done a few Old Scout (MGP-distilled) barrels for retailers like Kenwood Liquors and K&L Wines, and in 2014 they sold bourbon barrel #900 to Doug. Let's see how it stands up next to Stagg.
Brand: Old Scout
Bottler: Smooth Ambler
Region: Maxwelton, West Virginia (Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age: 8 years
Distillation date: 4/21/06
Alcohol by volume: 61.9%
(thank you to Sku for the sample!)
Its color is a rosy mahogany. The nose is loaded with spicy oak: fruity cardamom, clove, and cilantro. (This is why I goofily thought this was a rye at first.) Then some more C's: creamed corn, Corn Pops, and clover honey. The sugar cereal note expands with time. After 40+ minutes in the glass, the whiskey starts to release big notes of vanilla bean and shisha. The palate delivers a steady sweet→dry tone poem that's unique to my experience. It's very bright, with tangerines and orange peel; then rich caramel, mint syrup, and toffee. This gives way to a dry, lightly spiced, almost mineral note. This continues into the finish. There's a floral, fruity note from the esters (there, I finally used the word!) which then switches to a tingly peppercorn-filled, almost savory note. It's endless.
WITH WATER (below 50% abv)
Lots of baked goods in the nose. More corn, more caramel. Some honey mustard and dry cheese. The sweetness becomes simpler in the palate as a bold bitterness moves in. Grape jam, orange peel, granulated sugar, and black cherry soda are the leading notes. The bitterness lingers into the finish, merging well with the maple-black-cherry ice cream character. There's also a little bit of citrus and pepper in the mix.
Distillery: Buffalo Trace
Brand: George T. Stagg
Region: Kentucky, USA
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Release: Fall 2013
Age: approx. 15 years old
Mashbill: Buffalo Trace #1 (lower-rye; about 8%)
Alcohol by volume: 64.1%
(from my bottle)
Its color is an Earl Grey tea (steeped for 3.5 minutes, I dunno, WTF) brown. The nose is full of butters and nuts: roasted hazelnuts, almond paste, almond butter, butter. There's leather, fruit breads, and toffee. Caramel syrup is always present, but it takes almost 30 minutes for the vanilla to roll in. The palate is just as aggressively medicinal as it was when I first tasted it. Cherry Sudafed (from the '80s) and Robotussin (the good kind, from the '80s). A bitter black sherry soda. A Campari and Amaretto cocktail topped with caramel syrup. A little salt in there too. The finish goes from black cherry to maraschino cherry. Tobacco, barrel char, vanilla, caramel. The bitterness remains, as does the medicine.
WITH WATER (below 50% abv)
The nose picks up some orange gumdrops and salted caramel gelato. Lots of caramel, in fact. The nuts and leather remain, but are much subtler. There are also some smaller notes of burnt paper and manure. There's the Robotussin in the palate, as well as an almost Laphroaigy antiseptic note. Then cayenne pepper, corn syrup, and wood smoke. The mouth drying finish is slightly bitter and medicinal. Some fresh thyme in there too.
As I mentioned above, I gained some new perspective on the Stagg 2013. I always knew it was the most Islay-esque of bourbons, with its medicinal, earthy, occasionally smoky style. But the brutality of its delivery became very apparent next to DougDogz. And while Stagg's boldness is to be commended, getting punched in the face is not always the preferable way to receive one's bourbon. If the mood is right, Stagg can be excellent. But it can also be exhausting. And I'm beginning to think that I like some of the Elijah Craig Barrel Proofs better at similar/higher ABVs and younger ages.
The DougDogz Old Scout is more graceful than the Stagg, while being just about as complex. DougDogz's sweet-dry-spice progressions (also noted in Sku's review) are excellent and give it a step up on the Stagg. Its spice is very vibrant for a bourbon, which is why I first made the mistake of thinking that it was a rye when nosing it. But the spice is coming from the excellent barrel, as opposed to the spirit. It's incredible that this was only baking for eight years. A hell of a barrel pick by Mr. Phillips.
SMOOTH OLD SCOUT 8yo "DOUGDOGZ"
Availability - You'd have to ask Doug
Pricing - ???
Rating - 91
GEORGE T. STAGG SR., 2013 RELEASE
Availability - Happy hunting?
Pricing - MSRP was $79.99 or $89.99, it has been sold for up to $450
Rating - 88 (downgraded from 92)