Larceny Barrel Proof (A122) 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 producer 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, the 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 1880s 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 flavour 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’ll be looking at the first batch of Larceny Barrel Proof released in 2022 – A122. This release features the highest proof we’ve seen in Larceny to date but will this result in a better bourbon? Let’s find out!

Vital Stats:

Name: Larceny Barrel Proof
Age: NAS blend of 6-8 y.o. bourbon
Proof: 124.4 Proof (62.2% 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 bold and complex with thick dark caramel, dried red fruits, a touch of candied orange peel, and sweet wheat balanced against earthy baking spices like clove, tannic charred oak and ethanol. As you nose deeper the fruit notes and the baking spice notes become more apparent.

Palate: The palate opens with viscous dark caramel notes that are quickly followed by deep red fruit and sweet wheat notes which become a touch tart once the ethanol kicks in alongside peppery earthy baking spices. This peppery edge continues to heat the mid-palate as you chew but fades enough for bitter barrel notes of almonds carmalised to being near burnt, dark chocolate, and charred oak tannins to emerge.

Finish: The finish opens with lingering dark sweetness, dried fruit, earthy barrel spices, dark chocolate, and faint wheat all wrapped up in a warm Kentucky hug. The aftertaste is long and remains earthy and chocolatey with tannins lingering on the palate alongside wheat and floral dried fruit.

Overall

This bourbon is dark, complex, and deeply flavourful. In that typical barrel proof fashion it’s packed full of concentrated flavours that wash across the palate in layers. The impact of the barrel and ethanol becomes apparent early, but doesn’t overwhelm the delicate nuance and fruit notes coming from the wheat. In fact, even as the peppery spice washes across your palate with the first sip, the viscosity and wheat notes are still there. This definitely has the underlying character of previous Larceny batches but at this proof gives a more robust drinking experience with the flavours coming through with an intensity that those who like bold flavours will love. With a couple of drops of water the concentrated flavours immediately expand with caramels losing their near-burnt edge, and becoming sweeter, tart red fruit notes become near-floral, and that tannic oak edge loses some of it’s peppery edge to create a flavour experience that remains pleasant and balanced. This isn’t to say that this isn’t delicious at barrel proof, simply that it’s versatile and doesn’t fall apart with a few drops of water. I don’t have any of my C921 sample left, however, this bourbon meets and surpasses all my expectations from this release. I’m sure anyone who has enjoyed these releases will also enjoy it. What I like most about these releases is that, similar to Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, each batch presents something familiar-but-new. Yes, you get the same underlying character, but each batch has its flavours tuned differently to showcase the strengths of that particular batch. This leaves me excited for future batches.

If you’ve tried this, let me know what you think about the flavors and larceny experience!

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