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.”
Today I’m going to be taking a look at the now third 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 towards the end of 2020.
Name: Larceny Barrel Proof
Proof: 123.2 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 rich and sweet with strawberries stewed in dark brown sugar with a dusting of baking spices, and milk chocolate and charred oak becoming more apparent as you sniff deeper and longer.
Palate: The palate opens very viscous with corn-driven caramel, earthy wheat, dried red fruit, and tannic oak that dries out the tongue but fades to deep maple syrup, dark chocolate oak, barrel mint, and lingering spice as you continue to chew.
Finish: The finish opens with lingering spice, dried red fruit, faintly bitter charred oak and oak spices such as cloves, leaving an aftertaste of minty charred oak.
2020 has been a crazy year and in the space of just 9 months we’ve not only seen the launch of Larceny Barrel proof but already we’re on batch 3! This batch is utterly delicious and no doubt the product of much fine tuning in terms of the flavour profile to give us something we can hopefully continue to expect from this bourbon in the future. Like most newly released products, Larceny barrel proof obviously took time to perfect and work out those small glitches between batches and reach its full potential. Now that we’re on batch 3, I can gladly report that I think we have reached this point. In Batch 1 we saw the birth of a new breed of Larceny bourbon with all those barrel proof wheated bourbon notes we’d typically expect alongside some serious spice. In Batch 2 we saw the spice dialled down and the interplay between the grains and the barrel refined as we got lots of chocolatey oak alongside fruity wheat and a decent amount of spice. In batch 3 we’ve now reached a sweet spot between really good wheated bourbon flavours, barrel influence, and just enough spice that you don’t completely forget that you’re sipping on a barrel proof wheated bourbon. It’s hard to describe just how good this batch is in comparison to the previous 2 batches but let’s just say that I had to take a sip of batch 3 to calm the amount of spice I was getting from batch 1. In fact, from tasting them side by side the progression of quality between batches is crystal clear and I would place this batch in the same rankings as some of the finer Elijah Craig Barrel Proof examples we’ve seen throughout the years.
This year has seen some great quality releases from Heaven Hill across the board. Having now completed the 2020 release set for this whiskey, the team at Heaven Hill have demonstrated that Larceny Barrel Proof isn’t just their strong answer to overwhelming fan demand for a barrel proof wheated bourbon, but that it can also compete with several other much sought after releases. With this line extension they have taken the classic Larceny Profile and released it in a way that not only showcases individual flavour intricacies between batches but also delivers a unique and deeply flavourful wheated bourbon drinking experience. Add their hallmark of a strongly competitive MSRP and you’ve got a whiskey that continues to offer more bang for your buck than you could possibly hope for.
Try or Buy?
How is this stuff still only $50?! I hope this is the batch that launches this brand in the EU because I would like at least 2 more bottles and at this price it would be hard to leave any on the shelf if I was to come across them.