Larceny Barrel Proof (A121) Review

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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 62 rickhouses in Central KY and distribute hundreds of brands. Under the Heaven Hill Distillery portfolio, they produce award-winning products 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 almost 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.

Traditionally 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. Larceny features bourbon aged from 6 to 12 years old and therefore sits towards the older end of the readily available wheated bourbon spectrum. In 2020, Heaven Hill released the first line extension under the Larceny Brand, Larceny Barrel Proof. Following the template set out by Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, it is a non-chill filtered and bottled straight from the barrel mingling of bourbon aged between 6 and 8 years old, and thus “offers whiskey fans an opportunity to taste Larceny as Heaven Hill’s Master Distiller does, straight out of the barrel and non-chill filtered,” according to Heaven Hill.

Today I’m going to be taking a look at the now fourth 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 2021.

Vital Stats:

Name: Larceny Barrel Proof
Age: NAS blend of 6-8 y.o. bourbon
Proof: 114.8 Proof (57.4% ABV)
Type: Kentucky straight ‘wheated’ bourbon
Mashbill: 68% corn, 20% wheat, 12% malted barley
Producer: Heaven Hill Distillery
Website: https://larcenybourbon.com/home/
Glassware: Glencairn

Review

Nose: The nose opens with baking spice, deep maple syrup, and dark stone fruit, as well as red fruit sweetness, charred oak cacao, and a hint of toasted oak. As you nose deeper a touch of cloves emerges with added red fruit sweetness.

Palate: The palate opens with maple syrup, sweet red fruit, citrus peel, and baking spices with classic cacao, roasted nuts, and a hint of baking spices. As this fades, barrel notes like dark chocolate and further toasted almond notes emerge, however, as you continue to chew the barrel influence pulls back again to reveal more maple syrup and a touch of corn sweetness.

Finish: The finish opens with faint lingering alcohol spice, sweet maple syrup, faint charred oak, roasted almonds, and baking spices. Warming on the way down with a lovely aftertaste of charred oak and maple syrup.

Overall

Larceny Barrel Proof is now officially a year old and I’m happy to report that batch 4 is delicious! Although it’s the lowest proof that this whiskey been released at so far, it hits the ground running with flavour complexity, balance, and less ethanol heat which allows more of the nuances to slip through. It’s got that classic barrel-proof Heaven Hill bourbon profile boldness but also isn’t so hot that those wheat notes are drowned out by the proof and the associated aggressive tannins. Instead, this release strikes a careful balance between proof and flavour that outshines even my favourite batch of last year, the C920. From nose to finish you’re taken on a journey through the full effect that wheat can have on a bourbon mashbill with chocolate, nuts, sweet red fruit, and maple syrup all present at a viscosity and proof that sings on the tongue. At 114 proof I added no water because there’s no need – it’s perfect just the way it is.

I can’t help but feel that this was the release that fans of Larceny were hoping for the first time around. That’s not to say that Batch 1 wasn’t great, just that when tasting this side by side with Batch 1, I found Batch 1 to contain a much sharper alcohol and tannic edge in comparison to this release. I liked Batch 1 for it’s fiery can-do attitude and deep concentrated flavours, however, Batch 4 adds a new level of perspective and shows how this product has transitioned from an intense experience for even seasoned drinkers to something that is much more enjoyable and a pleasure to sip on neat.

Sipping this it’s easy to taste why this bourbon picked up Whiskey Advocate’s 2020 Whisky of the Year. Last year we saw big improvements as each subsequent release building on top of the strengths of its predecessor and delivering a finer balance between all the relevant flavour components. With this batch Heaven Hill have, in my opinion, demonstrated that they took all the feedback on previous batches onboard and used it to do some fine-tuning on the better aspects of all three. I can’t wait to see how this continues to change over time because this batch is a winner.

Try or Buy?

For $50 buying this is an absolute no-brainer. 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.

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Before you go…

Before you go…

Before you go…

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