Whiskey Review: Larceny Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

It all started in October, when we were facing our fear of the bottom shelf and I reviewed Old Fitzgerald Wheated Bourbon. This once-standard wheated bourbon offering from Heaven Hill is in the process of being phased out, with the recently-reviewed Larceny taking over as the wheated standard-bearer for Heaven Hill. So when found this bottle of Larceny Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to complete a Heaven Hill wheated bourbon hat-trick and review all three of those offerings. 


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History

In the world of American whiskey, few names hold as much historical significance as Old Fitzgerald bourbon. This storied brand traces its origins back to 1870 when John E. Fitzgerald builds a distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. As history goes, the only place the initial whiskey was sold were to steamship lines and private clubs. Old Fitzgerald did not become a registered trademark until 1884, and officially hit the public market in 1889.

Over the years, Old Fitzgerald experienced changes in ownership. The brand passed through the hands of various companies beginning with Stitzel-Weller in 1933 at the end of prohibition. Norton-Simon was next in 1972. In 1984, the Distillers Limited of Scotland, who merged with Guinness in 1986 to form United Distillers, which ultimately becomes Diageo in 1997.

In 1999, Heaven Hill distillery purchased the Bernheim Distillery from Diageo to create additional capacity after fire destroyed their Bardstown distillery and seven rickhouses. As of today, Heaven Hill remains the owner of this historic brand.

In an effort to rebrand their wheated bourbon line, Heaven Hill created the Larceny product. This wheated bourbon is in the process of replacing the Old Fitzgerald line. (However, it should be noted that the Old Fitzgerald decanter series continues to be listed on the Larceny website, so it does not appear to be going away entirely.)

The Larceny name and key that adorns the bottle comes from the stories surrounding Fitzgerald himself. John Fitzgerald was a US Treasury agent who, due to his position, had access to bonded rickhouses. Rumor has it that he would use his keys to the rickhouse to enter late at night and sample some of the barrels — and sometimes even take jugs of bourbon home. This would mean when it was time to bottle the bourbon, some barrels would be significantly lighter than full barrels. These became known as Fitzgerald barrels.

Product

All bourbon whiskeys must, by law, use grains as their raw materials. Further, at least 51% of those grains need to be corn. But what about the other 49% of the bottle? That’s left to the distillers to figure out — typically, you’ll see is some percentage of rye, and sometimes a bit of malted barley.

What makes Larceny distinct is its status as a wheated bourbon, which means it contains a higher proportion of wheat in its grain mash bill, setting it apart from traditional bourbons that typically rely on rye. The mashbill is not clearly disclosed, but Heaven Hill states that they use 25% more wheat than other wheated bourbons. Given that we do not know what that is in comparison to, we still know nothing more about what goes into the mash. Based on several sources online, we can guess that the mashbill is something close to 70% corn, 20% wheat, and 10% malted barley.

Details are scarce about the specific production process but, just like every other spirit, we can safely assume that those grains are milled, cooked, and then fermented before being distilled to create the crystal clear, new-make whiskey. It is then put in a new charred American oak barrel to be aged for a minimum of four years, the minimum time to meet the legal requirement for a “straight” bourbon without needing to specify an age statement on the bottle (which is notably absent on this bottle).

According to the Heaven Hill website, the barrels are all from the Nelson County, Kentucky rickhouses. The blend comes from barrels that are 6 to 12 years old and have been typically stored at the higher levels of the rickhouse, which promotes wider temperature swings and therefore has a larger impact on the flavor of the whiskey.

What makes the barrel proof product unique is the fact that it is bottled without filtering and at cask strength.  This particular bottle, from batch C923, clocks in at a whopping 63.2%! The barrel proof variety has been released three times per year (January, May, and September) since 2020, and this specific bottle is from the September 2023 batch.

Packaging

As far as whiskey bottles go, this is a fairly unique shape. It has a rectangular footprint and tapers in slightly at the sides. About two-thirds of the way up the bottle, the sides begin to flare out in a gentle curve, which soon curves back in to create the shoulder. It reminds me vaguely of a guitar (in an abstract, Pablo Picasso kind of way). There is a medium length neck, and it’s all topped with a synthetic stopper.

Where the straight bourbon label had a seemingly old, yellowed paper motif with black lettering, this bottle inverts that for yellow lettering on a black label. It’s covered in iconography associated with John Fitzgerald. His name is printed at the top, his signature is located on the right-hand side, the year 1870 is mentioned (which is the year Fitzgerald built his distillery in Frankfurt, Kentucky), and the key and keyhole icons are reminiscent of his time thieving rickhouses as a treasury agent.

The secret that makes this bottle unique is not very pronounced. Only a small portion of the lower left front of the bottle announces that it’s the “Barrel Proof” edition.

All in, I do like this bottle. It has a shape that stands out against the common round bottle, and the bulbous flare out at the top makes it comfortable and easy to pour from. Also, the label packs in a lot of messages about Fitzgerald without being overwhelming. My only knock would be that the barrel proof nature of this bottle could be made just a little more obvious.


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Neat

Given that this is a barrel strength 63% bourbon, I am not shocked that the nose is very spicy. However, behind all of that alcohol there’s also a ton of cinnamon and nutmeg coming off of the whiskey. And then it’s all combined with a significant sweetness that reminds me of brown sugar.

Like the nose, the first sip gives you a lot heat (thanks to that alcohol content). The foundation flavor is a rich, smooth caramel with a sweetness that has a slight hint of brown sugar; supporting that foundation are some nice oak wood notes that are paired with nutmeg, cinnamon, and black butter. The finish comes at you with a substantial warming heat that continues to pour baking spices across your tongue, with just the mildest taste of what reminds me of maple syrup. 

This is a surprising wheated bourbon, as it drinks more like a rye-forward whiskey. It’s packed full of flavor, very heat forward… and borderline undrinkable with that heavy alcohol content, if I’m honest.

I want to enjoy drinking this neat. And I think I can, if I take small sips and pour no more than two ounces. At this point, I’m really hoping that some ice mellows out the heat and makes the experience more enjoyable.

On Ice

Now this is where it’s at! As expected, the ice mellows out much of the heat you get when drinking it neat. What you are left with is a rich caramel bourbon with hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, and black pepper — all of the great flavors, with minimal heat.

This is what I would expect with a wheated bourbon. The spice that often accompanies a rye whiskey, which was prominent when drinking it neat, is no longer there. This is much more mellow and well balanced, but it still has the bold flavors you would expect with a barrel strength bourbon. And not all of the heat is gone – you won’t suddenly forget that you are drinking a high proof whiskey.

Taken neat, it’s… unique (and not necessarily in the best way) — but it’s truly great on the rocks.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

I love a barrel strength whiskey in an old fashioned. The bold flavors of the whiskey often blend well with the bitters, orange zest, and sugar. And thankfully, this bottle does not disappoint.

To start, you can without a doubt tell that you are drinking the same barrel proof bourbon that you were sipping on the rocks. The flavors boldly shine through the bitters, and are enhanced by the orange and sugar.  There are even new notes of anise and peppermint that can be tasted in this drink.

There is just enough heat coming through the cocktail to gently whisper “Larceny” in your ear (or mouth, technically… but that sounds strange. Who whispers in someone’s mouth??). This is the quality that makes this cocktail so great in my opinion — no, not the strange whispering, but the fact that you can immediately identify what spirit you’re drinking.

This ranks surprisingly high in my top 10 list of old fashioned cocktails.

Fizz (Mule)

This makes for a pretty good mule. What’s really doing the heavy lifting is that the bourbon is so strong that it can stand up to the bright ginger beer.  Just as in the old fashioned, you can certainly tell what kind of bourbon you are drinking.

It’s not just the caramel and vanilla though — there’s also a bold oak flavor that pushes through, along with black pepper and mild spiciness. It all blends nicely with the ginger beer, and doesn’t get lost in the mix. 

This is a good cocktail — which is saying a lot as I don’t normally enjoy a mule. However, it continues to highlight the challenge with this whiskey, which is you must doctor it somehow (via ice or a cocktail) to make it palatable. 


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Overall Rating

I have a deep appreciation for a great cask strength whiskey — the bold flavors are more pronounced and layered, offering a very authentic experience straight from the barrel.

However, sometimes there can be too much of a good thing… and this is the case with Larceny Barrel Proof. While it certainly delivers an intense and robust profile, it can be overwhelmingly bold — almost to the point of being difficult to enjoy unless you add ice or use it in a cocktail.

That said, it does truly shine when used in a cocktail. Larceny Barrel Proof makes a damned good cocktail.

I struggle with the cost and rarity markup associated with barrel strength products, especially when they cannot really be fully appreciated neat. This is a good product, if you know what it takes to really enjoy it. 

Larceny Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Produced By: Larceny
Owned By: Heaven Hill Distillery
Production Location: Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 63.2% ABV
Price: $69.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 3/5
A bold barrel strength that is almost too bold to enjoy unaltered. 


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