The Binny’s Handpicked committee got together last week to taste through some new Buffalo Trace Single Barrel Select samples. That means new Binny’s exclusive Elmer T Lee and Blanton’s are on the way. While we were all together anyway, Joe came up with the idea that we should do a blind tasting.
His pitch was this: we have an advance sample of the upcoming Larceny Bourbon from Heaven Hill. Larceny is a wheated bourbon with a $24.99 MSRP (exact Binny’s retail pending). Expectations are high for this new entrant. How will it fare when stacked against other favorite wheaters?
For the less geeky: Bourbon is legally required to include at least 51% corn, many bourbons including even more than that. A small chunk of the remaining recipe is usually barley, with a large chunk of often rye, or sometimes wheat. Rye tends to give bourbon a spicy edge, while wheat lends a plush richness. Today, we’re tasting bourbons that include wheat in the mash.
We always have some Old Weller Antique 107 on the shelf, which is always a gimmie when talking about wheated bourbon.
And we also just happen to have a dusty old bottle of Old Fitzgerald Bottled In Bond. This is a great choice for two reasons. First, the branding on Larceny is a reference to John Fitzgerald. The guy wasn’t a distiller with his name on a bottle like you might think. He was a thief. Fitzgerald was a treasury agent who used his access to warehouses to pilfer whiskey straight from the barrel, and he was known to pick the best. The second reason it’s a great choice: the Old Fitz BIB label bears the distillery number “D.S.P. KY 16.” That’s Stitzel-Weller. Meaning, we can compare this new bourbon to one of the most coveted bottles around.
We start out with three glasses: one has a red stir stick, one has a green stir stick, and one doesn’t have any stir stick. My own tasting notes:
Faintly vegetal on the nose, with good grain. Complex and balanced. Heavier on the palate, with great weight and breadth, and darker notes like cherry more grain.
A touch of aerosol, with green fruit and dark honey like buckwheat honey or brown sugar. It smells heavy and mature, almost like rum. Big on the palate, with sweet grain. Too sweet, too heavy for my tastes.
Hotter on the nose, with alcohol and grain. Lighter spice. On the palate this is more full and round, with more weight and less fresh vegetal notes than the red stick sample. This is my personal favorite.
I can’t guess which is which. Which is ridiculous, because rereading my notes now it all seems so obvious. I overthink it. The word “mature” somehow doesn’t help me recognize the decades-old Stitzel-Weller Old Fitz. And the word “hotter” doesn’t clue me to which bottle might have the highest proof. Again, blind tasting is hard. It challenges everything you know. You have to pay attention to what you’re telling yourself.
We couldn’t let Brett miss out on this experience. At first he acts all ambivalent and nonchalant about it, as he does sometimes, but once he gets his nose in a glass, he’s hooked. And as usual, he is spot on.
“The green straw one smells a little oxidized,” he says, and then he smells some more. He takes his precious time, smelling over and over again, tasting, mixing in a half a bottle cap of water, then another half cap. “Guessing, because it smells oxidized, that the green straw is the Old Fitz.”
Brett goes on. “No straw wins the nose. No straw is the fatter, sweeter of the other two. Green is probably the more interesting of the two, but it’s falling apart a little bit already. My preference is red, then no straw, then green.”
We go around the room and everybody gives their favorites. I’m not a statistics guy, but I think it seems fair to tally each top pick as two points, everybody’s second pick as one point, and third pick gets no points. It works out like this:
red stick – Larceny – 9 points
no stick – Weller 107 – 9 points
green stick – Old Fitz Stitzel-Weller – 3 points
So what does this mean? I asked Joe M. to break it down.
“It shows that good bourbon is being made right now. Bourbon that can stand up to legendary distilleries. And it shows that if you can’t get it, it tastes better.” Why didn’t the alcohol stand out in the Weller 107? “It’s surprisingly smooth for its heat.” And speaking of the Old Fitz Stitzel-Weller? “Mr. Pontoni pointed out it was oxidized. If it was fresh out of the bottle… who knows?”
By the way, Joe posted his personal results here on the straightbourbon.com forums here. We expect Larceny to arrive in September, and you should grab a bottle when it hits.