The latest rounds of Heaven Hill’s powerhouse Bourbons have arrived with new cask-strength batches of both Elijah Craig Barrel Proof and Larceny Barrel Proof. The latter whiskey no sooner debuted last year than it captured Whiskey Advocate’s 2020 Whiskey of the Year award, with a blockbuster rating of 95 points.
These are Bourbons with kick: Each is cask strength, which means no water is added at bottling, and both eschew chill filtering, a standard process meant to eliminate a cloudy appearance, but that some drinkers think dampens flavor. Each Bourbon is released in three batches a year, starting with January and proceeding to May and September, a schedule established with the first Elijah Craig Barrel Proof release in 2013. The newest releases bear the batch number A121, which is code for the release date. The letter “A” signifies the year’s first batch, the number “1” is for the month of January, and the number “21” indicates the year. The most recent batch of Larceny was dumped at an alcohol level of 114.8 proof, while the Elijah Craig comes in with a lip-smacking proof of 123.6.
Larceny is a wheated Bourbon, meaning that wheat is its secondary grain. (All Bourbon must be made from more than 50 percent corn.) The grain recipe, or mash bill for Larceny is 68 percent corn, 20 percent wheat and 12 percent barley. Wheat is thought to produce softer whiskeys. (Maker’s Mark is a popular example of a wheated Bourbon.) Pappy Van Winkle, of the highly-craved-super-aged Bourbon fame, was a whiskey maker known for his use of wheat as a secondary grain. His Old Fitzgerald brand, which Heaven Hill now owns, is the source of the Larceny name. Apparently, John E. Fitzgerald was a tax inspector fond of helping himself to samples while on official visits. It debuted in 2012 at its standard proof of 92.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof springs from the same corn-rich grain recipe, but is devoid of wheat. Its mash bill clocks in at 78 percent corn, 12 percent barley and 10 percent rye, and it’s 12 years old. Its 123-plus-proof might seem blistering, but it is downright tame compared with past expressions of this whiskey. Barrel Proof versions have several times been in the high-130-proof range and once landed as hot as 140. Only the May 2019 batch has carried a lower-alcohol percentage than this latest release.
The whiskey is named for an 18th century Kentucky minister, who, according to legend, invented the barrel-charring method by which Bourbon is aged.
While Heaven Hill matures its whiskey in Bardstown, Kentucky, where its Heritage Center for tourists is located, the spirit is distilled in Louisville. After a 1996 fire destroyed the Bardstown plant, the family-owned company bought the Bernheim Distillery from liquor giant Diageo. Heaven Hill maintains the separate Evan Williams Bourbon Experience for guests on Whiskey Row in that city.
These two latest releases are proof that Heaven Hill is still making excellent Bourbons, whatever the location. Pair them with fine cigars for an enjoyable evening.
LARCENY BARREL PROOF A121 (114.8 proof, $50)
APPEARANCE: Rich, copper color; thin, slow legs.
NOSE: A very pretty, floral and fruity opening is followed by spices, maple and vanilla.
PALATE: Carmel presents initially and, as the Bourbon works its way through the mouth, cinnamon graham cracker, berries and maple arise.
FINISH: The fruit from the nose reappears on the long finish and joins lingering notes from the palate. Spicy wheat is prominent.
ELIJAH CRAIG BARREL PROOF A121 (123.6 proof, $60)
APPEARANCE: Dark copper; thick, quick legs.
NOSE: Comes out with honey and maple, then adds orange and blackberry.
PALATE: Sweet and tangy, it also has a mellow vanilla/maple quality as well as a bit of chocolate.
FINISH: A very long finish that hits on the all notes of the nose and palate and then adds a nutty, almost praline flavor.