Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: Heaven Hill
Distillery: Heaven Hill
Release Date: January 2020
Age: NAS (Company states that batches will contain six to eight year old bourbon)
Mashbill: 68% Corn, 20% Wheat, 12% Malted Barley
Color: Deep Amber
MSRP: $50 (2020)
In September 2012, Heaven Hill introduced the standard 92 proof Larceny to the market as “heir to the wheated bourbons that make up the historic Old Fitzgerald franchise.” The name “Larceny” and key pictured on the bottle is derived from the story of John Fitzgerald, who was believed to be a Treasury agent who “used his keys to the warehouses to pilfer bourbon from the finest barrels,” which were referred to as “Fitzgerald barrels."
Similar to the strategy Heaven Hill utilizes with their Elijah Craig Barrel Proof line of multiple releases in a year, Larceny Barrel Proof will be released on an allocated basis three times per year: January, May and September. Each release will have different proofs and consist of bourbon aged six to eight years. The first character in the batch name designates which batch of the year that bottle came from, the numeral that follows represents the month of the release, and the last two digits indicate the corresponding year of the release.
A strong, yet tempered aroma of brown sugar, molasses, Cracker Jack, toasted oak, and walnut. Hints of orange, apple, and tobacco leaf gently mix in providing contrast and complexity. It’s quite enjoyable, but not shockingly unique. Its nose is what you’d expect from a barrel proof Larceny, which is exactly what this it needs to be.
A rush of sweet and bold flavors greets you, as gooey-sweet caramel, rich vanilla, brown sugar, mild cinnamon, and heavy oak provide the backbone of this bourbon. It’s not overly complicated or challenging as it instead presents its flavors in a very drinkable way. Namely, it focuses on sweetness above all else. I also found rolling this bourbon around in my mouth opens up its flavors more and makes its best impression this way.
Some bitterness develops on the finish that’s amplified by its ramp up of heat. Heavy oak, vanilla, and dark chocolate dominate the medium-length finish that does little to enhance the bourbon. While flavorful, it’s a straightforward affair that’s a bit too bold at times and, as a result, forgoes the delightfulness of the palate.
There was an incredibly strong run of barrel proof bourbons in 2019 and Larceny Barrel Proof has the challenge of following them. In previous years when it seemed like every company was releasing their own barrel proof whiskey, few truly stood out. High proof and bold flavors were all accounted for, but few brought something unique to the pour. It isn’t enough to simply offer high proof and bold flavors in a crowded market. You have to offer something beyond that.
When Nick and Jordan visited Heaven Hill in summer of 2019, they tasted Larceny straight from the barrel. To their surprise, the single barrels they tasted were unbalanced and noticeably tannic at barrel proof, though they were drastically better when proofed down. When Heaven Hill announced Larceny Barrel Proof, they made the point that it was going to be released in batches three times a year. Upon tasting Batch A120, it was immediately noticeable to Nick and Jordan that batching had a dramatic impact on the overall taste and quality of the pour. All three of us had an immediate reaction to our pour: wow, this is tasty and sweet.
Not everyone loves sweet bourbon, so for those drinkers, Larceny Barrel Proof probably won’t be for them. For those that do, its sweetness is the lasting impression Larceny Barrel Proof will make on them. There are very few barrel proof bourbons that are as sweet as this, with Maker’s Mark Cask Strength coming to mind as another - a lot of which has to do with it also being a wheated bourbon. The wheat often adds extra amounts sweetness that rye based barrel proof bourbons don’t always feature to the same degree. In a lineup with other barrel proof bourbons, Larceny Barrel Proof won’t have to worry about blending into the pack because of this.
Anyone who’s had the opportunity to taste the standout in the barrel proof wheated bourbon category, William Larue Weller (WLW), knows just how great, in demand, and therefore, expensive WLW can be. Up until now, the main available and affordable high proof wheater has been Maker's Mark Cask Strength (MMCS). Found at a similar price to Larceny Barrel Proof, its main difference is it is often 10 proof points less. MMCS batches can be just as sweet as Larceny Barrel Proof at times, but lack the boldness of Larceny Barrel Proof and the extra oak intensity that comes with it. While still not as bold as WLW, Larceny Barrel Proof finds itself in a comfortable space in between the two current high proof wheaters.
At $50, not only is Larceny Barrel Proof competitively priced to MMCS, but the extra flavor oomph provides an affordable alternative to WLW, despite not reaching the same heights as Buffalo Trace’s wheater. Even comparing it with almost every other major distillery’s barrel proof whiskey coming in over $50, Larceny Barrel Proof is hitting the market at an extremely competitive price point. Its $50 MSRP, lack of many high proof wheated bourbons, and overall quality puts it squarely in the buy category.
Better late than never, Heaven Hill finally releases a barrel proof Larceny with crowd-pleasing sweet flavors and price.
In its first iteration, Larceny Barrel Proof is impressive. Heaven Hill finally gives us what many whiskey drinkers have been asking for: another affordable and (hopefully) readily available barrel proof wheated bourbon on the market. Larceny Barrel Proof leans heavily into the sweeter side of the flavor spectrum and therefore is quite an easy drinker. This first batch isn’t without its faults though. It lacks complexity, and its finish still sports more bitterness than I care for. Yet it’s still a tasty bourbon that gets better the more you drink it. Unfortunately it isn’t the WLW replacement many hoped it would be, but many may find it as a bolder alternative to MMCS. The brand still has room to improve, but there isl a lot to love about the inaugural batch of Larceny Barrel Proof.
The sample used for this review was provided at no cost courtesy of Heaven Hill. We thank them for the sample and for allowing us to it with no strings attached.