January is a slower month for bourbon releases. Still, there are two drops that absolutely dominate the discourse this month thanks to Heaven Hill dropping their barrel-proof expressions from Larceny and Elijah Craig. And we were lucky enough to get each for a bourbon review.
Below, I’ll be giving you my professional opinion on both Elijah Craig Barrel Proof A123 and Larceny Barrel Proof A123. Don’t get put off by the numbers here. Heaven Hill — which makes these brands — puts out three editions of these bottles every year. “A” denotes the first release of the year. “1” stands for January. “23” refers to the year, naturally. The next releases of these two whiskeys will come in May and September.
Generally speaking, these are two of the most sought-after bottles of bourbon in January of any given year. High-proof bourbon heads love these bottles for their bold flavors that truly do ebb and flow flavorwise with each release. So do they live up to the hype this season?
That’s what I’ll tell you below.
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Larceny Barrel Proof A123
Average Price: $69 (MSRP)
This year’s first Larceny Barrel Proof is made with Heaven Hill’s standard wheated bourbon mash bill of 68% corn, 20% wheat, and 12% malted barley. The batch is made from a combination of six to eight-year-old barrels from Heaven Hill’s rickhouses. The final blend is bottled as-is.
Nose: Chili pepper spice and almost damp masa come through on the nose with a hint of mustiness next to nut loaf cut with a twinge of apple cider juice and some orchard tree branches with a hint of apple caramel candy lurking underneath.
Palate: Sweet vanilla cake leads to a hint of cinnamon bark and creamy eggnog with plenty of nutmeg before a light ABV heat rises and leads to apple cores and soft leather.
Finish: A sharp winter spice dominates the end with a sense of old apple bushels, broken-down used bourbon barrels, and a hint of caramel vanilla creaminess.
This is a subtle and warming bourbon. It’s on the sweeter side but really benefits from the sweet/hot balance. It feels like something that’d make an amazing Manhattan.
88/100 — This is a solid B+ bourbon. It’s a nice sipper but really feels more like a cocktail base.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof A123
Average Price: $69 (MSRP)
This year’s first Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is hewn from Heaven Hill’s classic bourbon mash bill of 78% corn, 12% malted barley, and 10% rye. That hot juice is loaded into charred American oak barrels and left to rest for 12 long years before batching and bottling as-is.
Nose: This has a classic nose that leans towards toasted chocolate beans, dried chili pepper flakes (and maybe even some fresh green chili), burnt vanilla pods, singed cherry bark, and old leather dipped in caramel.
Palate: Bold! The palate opens with a sense of sweet stick toffee pudding (dates, cinnamon, nutmeg, salted caramel sauce) before hitting a high note on the ABVs with a spicy heat that’s immediately countered by a rich cherry syrup and caramel sauce.
Finish: Another wave of heat arrives late and ushers in a light sense of old oak staves and cinnamon bark with a mild sense of apple tobacco and maybe some cedar kindling with a fleeting sense of leather and cherry stems.
This is a classic bourbon dialed up to 11. It’s brazen with the heat but balances nicely with the deep and dark caramel and cherry notes. This is really good bourbon. This will certainly benefit from a little water or a rock to let it bloom a little more in the glass as a sipper.
90/100 — This is a very solid and quintessential bourbon with some serious heat.