Over the last year and change, it’s been a little hard to decide once and for all how I feel about Heaven Hill’s Larceny Barrel Proof series. Whereas I’ve often been embarrassingly effusive in my praise for the company’s Elijah Craig Barrel Proof bourbon series (the latest A121 release is great as always ) its wheated bourbon sister series is one that has struggled to earn the same plaudits, at least from some critics. That’s the thing, though—Larceny BP has seemed particularly divisive, because some drinkers really love it. In fact, the B520 release last year was the #1 Whisky of the Year from Whisky Advocate in 2020. That seems fitting, as their picks don’t always gel with popular consensus, and the consensus on Larceny BP has been all over the place.
Personally, I suspect that I always thought I would love Larceny Barrel Proof, for a few obvious reasons. One is my fondness for Heaven Hill bourbon in general. The other is the dependable quality of the base Larceny expression, which is an excellent value for introductory wheated bourbon, and the deliciousness of the company’s extra-aged Old Fitzgerald line of top-shelf wheated bourbons, made with the same mash bill. Larceny Barrel Proof was meant to give one more option in the middle: Much stronger than the core Larceny, but without the impressive age statement of the Old Fitzgerald, which would keep the MSRP at a very reasonable $50. That’s a very good deal for a cask-strength, 6-8 year old wheated bourbon in the modern whiskey market. So on paper, Larceny BP sounded like a great concept to me.
In practice, though, I didn’t find it as immediately compelling as I hoped. There were interesting elements in each of the first few releases (A120, B520, C920), but the combination of proof point and age statement didn’t yield the kind of experience I was hoping for. Some of the batches seemed overtaken by ethanol, or unpleasantly tannic, especially as I visited them again. They lacked the subtlety and composure found in 14 or 15-year-old batches of Old Fitzgerald, and the simple approachability of the flagship Larceny. It felt like the proof point in particular just didn’t work as well for this brand as it did for the 12-year-old Elijah Craig Barrel Proof.
It’s interesting to note, then, that the newly arrived first Larceny BP batch of this year, A121, seems to have been tweaked at least a little. Whereas the three batches in 2020 were all between 122-123 proof, A121 is notably lighter at 114.8 proof. Not a huge difference, mind you, but a significant one that puts this batch in a lower realm than you usually see for barrel proof Heaven Hill releases. And I think it ultimately may have been for the best. Although there are hardcore whiskey geeks out there who will always want the biggest and punchiest proof points possible, I think A121 has quickly proven itself to be my favorite Larceny BP batch so far—and one that is moving this series in a good direction.
So with that said, let’s get to tasting. As previously noted, this is 6-8 year old wheated bourbon, bottled at 114.8 proof.
On the nose, my initial impression was slightly on the muted side, with is something else I’ve noted with this series in the past. Thankfully, this doesn’t mean that ethanol harshness is a primary player; simply that the threshold of intensity is somewhat lower than in previous batches. As it sits in the glass, A121 starts to open up. I get a significant amount of dark fruitiness here, with slightly jammy notes, along with the cocoa I’ve tasted several times in this series before. I also get some sawdust-like oak, and a more complex spiciness akin to Dr. Pepper—another aspect that checks out for me, as I’ve always found this series to have a lot more baking spice-type profile than most other wheated bourbons. The overall impression is like lightly spicy fruitcake.
On the palate, things are getting interesting. I’m getting a lot of cherry candy or brandied cherries here, along with citrus, caramel, cocoa, vanilla bean and plenty of baking spices once again. The ethanol is notably well integrated in comparison with some of the previous Larceny BP batches, allowing the fruit and spice notes to shine more clearly. None of the notes dominate particularly strongly, although as in the past, I’m struck by the unusual prevalence of baking spice notes, which you don’t find as strongly in most wheated bourbons. I will say that the texture of A121 does seem a bit thinner and less weighty than some of the previous Larceny BP batches, but I will gladly trade that for the ability to approach its flavors with more clarity.
All in all, I think this is evidence of this series moving in a positive direction for my own taste. Larceny BP can’t really make a play for the complexity that is unlocked in Heaven Hill’s wheated bourbon distillate after it’s aged 10-15 years in an Old Fitzgerald release, but this batch helps it to begin carving out more of a recognizable territory of its own. Here’s hoping the improvement continues, and perhaps one day this brand will be mentioned in the same breath as Elijah Craig Barrel Proof.
Distillery: Heaven Hill
City: Bardstown, KY
Style: Wheated bourbon
ABV: 57.4% (114.8 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $50 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.