Larceny – an inventive name which refers to legendary whiskyman John E. Fitzgerald’s penchant for liberating bourbon directly from barrels as they matured in-warehouse (whiskey he did not own) – is a new mass-market Kentucky straight bourbon release from Heaven Hill. The bourbon is wheated – like Maker’s Mark and cult favorite Pappy Van Winkle – but this one comes from the makers of Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, and Parker’s Heritage. The wheat in question is used as the mashbill’s flavoring grain instead of the more traditional rye. This choice usually results in a softer, fuller, and less spicy bourbon than its rye-flavored siblings.
The label says “small batch”, which here means fewer than 100 barrels between the ages of 6 and 12 years. I really like a branded release that consists of whiskey made by the company that markets it – you know where this whiskey comes from – it’s Heaven Hill, not some combination of mystery casks from mystery producers, which might change next batch because the blender couldn’t source the same bourbon the second time around.
Nose: Wood chips, cherry cough syrup, corn syrup (these all start out the same, don’t they?) Deeper in there’s some cake frosting and wood sap. There’s also something slightly astringent, but not quite paint thinner. Quite woody, and a significant nose tickle.
Palate: Strong burn for 46% ABV. Viscous. Initially marshmallow and balsa wood. Grassy and woody, with oak tannins obvious in the degree of mouth-drying pucker. Hazelnut butter and caramel round out a decent lineup of flavors.
Finish: Tobacco, burnt caramel, and more tannin. Medium length. Fades from slightly bitter to soft and sweet – Tootsie Rolls? Then ends with apricot pits.
With Water: Water picks up the astringent in the nose until it’s almost winey. Also reveals more vanilla. Softens the tongue burn considerably but adds a somewhat unpleasant charcoal/ash note.
Overall: The nose is lackluster and overly biting (it would probably benefit from a longer rest in the glass), but some interesting flavors redeem the palate, and the finish is pleasantly non-bitter. Not too shabby for $25 bourbon out of a plastic miniature bottle. I like the effect of wheat on a bourbon (I think of it as tasting of vanilla instead of cinnamon) and while this is no Pappy Van Winkle, I like it far more than I like Maker’s Mark. For $25 or less, you can hardly go wrong with a great mixing bourbon and a reasonable sipping bourbon in the same bottle, especially if you’ve been underwhelmed by Maker’s Mark in the past.