Larceny Barrel Proof (B521) 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.

Vital Stats:

Name: Larceny Barrel Proof
Age: NAS blend of 6-8 y.o. bourbon
Proof: 121.0 Proof (60.5% 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 sweet brown sugar, mixed forest fruits, grain notes, aswell as a touch of dark chocolate fudge, ethanol, and heavily charred oak and herbaceous cloves. The longer this is left in the glass the less ethanol comes through on the nose with wheat-driven red fruit and clove-heavy charred oak notes coming through with added intensity.

Palate: The palate opens with thick brown sugar syrup drizzled over vibrant red and black forest fruits. As you continue to chew the sweetness dies down and it becomes almost savoury, leaning towards fire-roasted almonds, salted dark chocolate fudge, and a kick of spice from the alcohol and oak. Once this spice fades an earthy mix of old charred oak and faintly bitter herbaceous barrel spices emerge alongside the notes of dark stonefruit whilst a touch of heat travels down along the sides of the tongue.


Finish: The finish opens with residual spice along the sides of the tongue, chocolate fudge, old herbaceous oak tannins, and warmth from the ethanol. The aftertaste is dry tannic oak, a touch of red and black fruit, and herbaceous charred oak. 

Overall

If you like bold, complex, heavy-hitting barrel proof wheated bourbons then this is for you! It has both flavour complexity and intensity, is well-balanced, and packs that classic Heaven Hill barrel-driven influence all at a proof that cannot be argued with. What also struck me as I was tasting this was that the barrel-driven notes in B521 taste as coming from much older or more mature barrels than what I’ve tasted in previous batches, with the oak profile carrying many of the hallmarks I’d associate with 8 – 12 year old bourbon. Of course, the most likely explanation is that Heaven Hill picked prime barrels to lend this added maturity, but either way both the whiskey and the drinker benefit greatly from the balance this oak-profile brings.

In terms of how this compares to previous Larceny barrel proof releases, when compared to the highly-rated A121 release, this easily outperformed it across the board, remaining consistent with the ongoing improvements we’ve seen in Larceny BP batches since the first release. Tasted side by side, the A121 was: 1) lighter in colour, 2) tasted lighter with vibrant wheat-driven fruit notes, and 3) carried a lot more tannic spice despite being a much lower proof. From nose to finish there’s a delicious mix of thick spice and a decent helping of mature oak in the B521 and this alongside thye sweet and fruity grain notes coming from the wheat and the corn to leave you feeling like you’ve gotten the premium barrel proof bourbon experience you sought. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the overall drinking experience from B521 is delivers a barrel proof wheated bourbon experience in line with what I’ve experienced from competitor’s high-end barrel proof wheated bourbon releases.

Try or Buy?

A mature, uncut, and unfiltered barrel proof bourbon for $50? Buy!

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