Rising from the ashes of Prohibition and into the midst of the Great Depression in Bardstown, KY, Heaven Hill Distillery has grown to be the largest independent family-owned and operated producers of distilled spirits products in the US, and the second-largest holder of bourbon whiskey inventory in the world. The distillery was set up in 1935 after a small group approached the Shapira family seeking capital investment to set up a distillery using their technical expertise. Following personal financial difficulties among the other members of the founding group, their interests in the “Old Heavenhill Springs” distillery was bought out by the Shapira family making the distillery a fully family-owned enterprise. With renewed purpose the family kept on one of the original investors, James L. Beam as Master Distiller, and hired the best bourbon producing talent they could find in their local Bardstown. Four years later in 1939 they released their first product, a 4 year old Bottled in Bond bourbon under the Old Heaven Hill brand. The brand quickly became one of the top selling bourbons in the State and cemented the distillery’s position as one of the top bourbon producers in Kentucky at the time. The name of the distillery originates from the family name of William Heavenhill who was an early pioneer farmer and owned the original property on which the distillery sat. When originally registering the company a clerical mistake resulted in the name becoming Heaven Hill as opposed to Heavenhill.
On November 7th 1996 a fire that started in one of the barrel ageing warehouses spread by strong winds, destroying almost the entire distillery and numerous ageing warehouses. Overall 90,000 barrels of whisky were lost and for the next 3 years the company was dependent on production capacity in neighbouring distilleries. In 1999 Heaven Hill completed the purchase of the Old Bernheim Distillery from Diageo in Louisville and once the distillery was adapted, the production and distillation end moved to Louisville whilst ageing, bottling, and shipping still occur on the original Bardstown site.
Today the modern iteration of the company, Heaven Hill Brands, has become a diversified supplier of whiskeys, liqueurs, vodkas, rums and other spirits. They own 57 rickhouses in Central KY and distribute over 48 brands including 17 bourbon labels such as Henry McKenna, Elijah Craig, Evan William, Larceny, Old Fitzgerald, and Rittenhouse rye to name a few. The distillery also has the largest number of Bottled in Bond whiskies on the market and is the only heritage distiller that features every major category of American whiskey in their 5 distinct mashbills producing traditional bourbon, wheated bourbon, rye whiskey, corn whiskey, and wheat whiskey. Under 7th Master Distiller (and fellow countryman) Conor O’Driscoll the distillery is on course to fill lamost 400,000 barrels this year and with continued investment production capacity is growing every year to meet rising demand.
First launched in 2012, Larceny bourbon is a wheated bourbon that is named in honour of John E. Fitzgerald who, according to legend, was a treasury agent who used his keys to the warehouses to pilfer Bourbon from the best barrels, thus committing larceny. In fact, story has it that Fitzgerald’s palate was so good at finding the best barrels that S.C Herbst who owned the “Old Fitz” brand from the 1880’s through Prohibition, and “Pappy” Van Winkle, who purchased the brand during Prohibition and made it his signature label, both decided to immortalise Fitzgerald by creating and maintaining the namesake brand. Whether Fitzgerald was actually a treasury agent with a penchant for draining honey barrels in the night, or whether he was a historical distiller who used wheat as the flavouring grain in his bourbon instead of rye, the Old Fitzgerald brand still exists to this day and Larceny honours the unofficial side of Fitzgerald’s supposed history. Larceny Bourbon continues the Old Fitzgerald tradition of using wheat in place of rye and uses winter wheat to replace the spicier, fruitier flavor notes that rye provides with a softer, rounder character that is the hallmark of Old Fitzgerald and other “wheated” Bourbons such as Maker’s Mark and the Van Winkle line. What separates Larceny from its competitors is that it uses Heaven Hill’s wheated bourbon mashbill which contains just over a third more wheat thus making for a softer drinking experience.
Bottled at 92 proof, Larceny small batch is aimed at the premium market and produced from dumps of 200 or fewer barrels that have been selected from the 4th, 5th and 6th floors of Heaven Hill’s open rick warehouses in Nelson County, KY., and features bourbon aged from 6 to 12 years old. At this age Larceny sits towards the older end of the readily available wheated bourbon spectrum and so when it was announced that Heaven Hill will be releasing a barrel proof bottling in 2020 word spread like wildfire. As the first line extension of the Larceny Brand, Heaven Hill have stated that Larceny Barrel Proof “offers whiskey fans an opportunity to taste Larceny as Heaven Hill’s Master Distiller does, straight out of the barrel and non-chill filtered.” With the first batch (A120) hitting shelves in January of 2020 further details emerged in early May that Batch 2 (B520) would soon follow with a third batch planned for later in the year.
Today I’m going to be taking a look at the second release of Larceny Barrel Proof. With similar distribution to Elijah Craig Barrel Proof I assume that this will see similar availability in the US with a wider EU and Rest of World release coming online at the end of 2020.
Name: Larceny Barrel Proof
Proof: 122.2 Proof (61.6% ABV)
Type: Kentucky straight ‘wheated’ bourbon
Mashbill: 68% corn, 20% wheat, 12% malted barley
Producer: Heaven Hill Distillery
Nose: The nose opens with unsweetened cacao powder and faint alcohol with notes of red fruit and black cherries emerging alongside white pepper spice. As you continue to nose this, earthy charred oak and faint roasted nuts also emerge with a lingering wheat-driven strawberry sweetness lingering around the edges.
Palate: The palate opens viscous with earthy roasted nuts coated in brown sugar alongside concentrated notes of dark stone fruit before a bite of ethanol brings out baking spices and black pepper with dark chocolate, lingering spice, and charred oak also emerging as you continue to chew this bourbon.
Finish: The finish opens with lingering spice from the palate and gives intense red fruit again but mostly baking spices, and unsweetened cacao mixed with pepper and leading into an aftertaste of tannic oak that dries out the tongue and cheek and the lasting bitterness of charred oak.
Now that we’re on the second batch of this bourbon we finally have something to compare the first release to that isn’t a wheated bourbon from another producer. This batch is very barrel-influence heavy with the wheat not really getting the opportunity to shine through as much as on the first batch. That being said this batch is more viscous on the palate and has a lot less burn than the first batch with flavour intensity being more the focus with batch 2 it seems. With a few drops of water, the intensity of the barrel notes dies down and you get more of the wheat profile emerging from under chocolate sauce and baking spices. The finish is also peppery with earthy roast nuts again and a dark, tannic, bitter aftertaste that tastes like there are some older stocks blended into this batch.
As a barrel proof release from Heaven Hill the influence from the oak in this bourbon comes as no surprise. Compared to the standard 92 proof release of Larceny this batch takes that red fruit, faint baking spices, and charred oak profile and turns it up to ten with an almost bitter red fruit sweetness, a healthy dose of oak spice, dark chocolate, and a finish that leaves your tongue painted in layers of flavours that peel back as the heat dissipates from the tongue. Although the first release of Larceny BP falls a little closer in my estimations to the standard release, this second batch has lost the corn notes, amped up the viscosity, and dialled up flavour and oak influence in a way that creates a completely new experience of Larceny at barrel proof. Similar to Elijah Craig Barrel Proof you can bet that the aim of these unique releases was to give fans of the standard Larceny a new spin on a classic profile with each new release. Last time it was the fruit and grains (with a lot of heat) and this time it’s the influence from the barrel whilst delivering less heat and a more mature flavour profile.
With the second release of this whiskey under their belt, the team at Heaven Hill have demonstrated that Larceny Barrel Proof (much like the now infamous Elijah Craig Barrel Proof releases) remains their strong answer to overwhelming fan demand for a barrel proof wheated bourbon that takes the classic Larceny Profile and releases it in a way that not only showcases individual flavour intricacies between batches but also delivers a unique and deeply flavourful drinking experience. Add that to a strongly competitive RRP and you’ve got a whiskey that offers more bang for your buck than you can ever hope for in any other barrel proof whiskey. Batch 2 is already a big step up from batch 1 and so I for one can’t wait to see what batch 3 will bring!
Try or Buy?
Have I mentioned that this stuff has an RRP of $50 and will be available on a similar scale as Elijah Craig Barrel Proof? At this price if I came across a bottle I’d consider it a sin not to pick one or two bottles up.