Thursday, February 6, 2020
Overproof Day: Larceny Barrel Proof and Stagg Jr. Batch 13
Why barrel proof? I think Booker Noe said it best: so you can taste it the way he tasted it, the way a master distiller or blender tastes it -- full-bore, uncut, unfiltered, untouched. The only thing they do to this stuff is screen out the chunks of char and pick which barrels to pour in the dump trough.
No sense wasting any more time. Let's rip these open.
Larceny Barrel Proof Batch A120, 123.2° proof: No backstory, only this: wheated bourbon. No mash bill is given; guesses are that it's around 20% wheat, but take that with a grain of salt. The label says these are whiskeys between 6 and 8 years old. The batch number is pretty simple: A120, with “A” representing the first batch of that year, “1” representing January, and “20” representing the year 2020.
It's poured and waiting, and I can smell it from a foot away; sweet, smokey, vanilla, evocative of the deep hollers of the mountains. Get the nose in there, and you'd swear you were in the warehouse, it's that rich. This one isn't shy, unlike some other wheaters I've had. I can almost pick out some of that brawling character of the old Heaven Hill Bonded 6. There's a lot of caramel, an edge of burnt sugar, crème brûlée, all those hot, browned sugar things. But there is also a brightness -- a berry acidity -- and unsalted peanuts, with a nip of oak bark following on behind. Intense, but, hey, that's what you get from these heavyweights. Let's pull the trigger.
Heat, for sure, but not killing, and there sure is a lot else there. All that browned sugar, leaning more heavily toward the darker sides, and hot vanilla; that crème brûlée is really coming on strong. But there is some corn now, Indian pudding, the concentrated sweetness of parched corn. There's a big smacky paddle of oak behind it, too, and that pretty much lifts you into the finish, where it dominates that sweet caramel/corn.
Boys and girls, we're looking at a different Larceny here. Even at the standard 92° proof, Larceny is soft-spoken. This wheater is laying it down, and, maybe, is ready to go toe-to-toe with The Wheated Warrior: Mr. William Larue Weller (who, you'll note, delivers that same kind of crème brûlée and corn pudding richness...with less oak). If you've been looking for a wheater with the backbone of a big rye bourbon, this here bottle does it.
Pop it open, and you know it's a different whiskey. Every bit as bold as the Larceny, but without the cushioning sugar-caramel sweetness. Stagg just steps right up and sucker-punches you, BOOM, with a honker full of oak, a touch of wax polish, and bitter rye notes, like a rye bread without the butter or jam. It's lean, it's rippling, it's ready.
Me too. And there's a shock: there's a ton of sweetness lurking behind the austere aromas. Sure, it spreads on your tongue like a wave of blue flame, but now you taste the corn sweetness, the caramel, and the buoyancy of it all makes the heat bearable. The rye notes are like an iron core everything's anchored to, like the supports in an old brick building. Rye shoots through the sweetness, contrasts with it, works with it, and by the time we get to the finish, it's freakin' well waltzing with it.
And you know, after half an ounce of each of these, I'm feeling like dancing too. Two really good whiskeys here, each at a not unreasonable list price -- MSRP is $49.99, for each whiskey -- for a bottle of barrel proof bourbon. I can't tell you what you'll see on the shelf, of course, which is half the fight anymore.