Barrel No. 6196293 picked by San Francisco Wine Trading Co. (2019)
MASH BILL – 68% corn, 20% wheat, 12% barley
PROOF – 92
AGE – NAS (barreled 3/2012, bottled mid-2019)
DISTILLERY – Old Fitzgerald Distillery (i.e. Heaven Hill)
PRICE – $27
WELLER SPECIAL RESERVE
Single Barrel 119, picked by Bourbon County & Fred’s Liquor (2019)
MASH BILL – Undisclosed mash of corn, wheat, and barley
PROOF – 90
AGE – NAS (~6 to 7 years)
DISTILLERY – Buffalo Trace Distillery
PRICE – $29
Wheated bourbons, which use wheat as their secondary grain rather than rye, are a recurring theme on this blog. One of the bottles in the present comparison I’ve even reviewed already. Why the obsession with wheaters?
The Van Winkle / Weller phenomenon is the easy explanation. No other line of bourbons embodies the bourbon boom’s unicorn hunting frenzy more than Van Winkle. And the comparatively more available Weller line has famously been corralled into the Van Winkle unicorn pasture. Both grow more difficult to obtain each year, with prices ranging from $30 to $3000 depending on which bottle you’re buying where.
Weller has unofficially but effectively come to hold status as the default standard for wheated bourbon. Larceny, on the other hand, has quietly maintained a solid position on the lower shelves of liquor stores. Pleasing many drinkers and enjoying great sales figures, Larceny seems to be a particular target for dismissal by pro-Weller devotees. “It ain’t Weller,” is a common refrain, carrying the subtle implication that Heaven Hill Distillery specifically set out to best Weller. Maybe. But more likely they simply recognize that wheated bourbons make worthy additions to their portfolio, providing options alongside their bourbons made from the more standard grain combo of corn, rye, and barley. Heaven Hill had already been producing variations on its Old Fitzgerald line for years. Larceny provided consumers with another accessible option.
With this post’s comparison, I’ll admit I risk adding to the over-emphasis on Weller as the gold standard wheater. I’ll do my best to disrupt that narrative. Not because I don’t like Weller. I do. I simply find the inflation of its status—and with that, its price—to be the single greatest example of the downside of bourbon’s popularity, where we the consumers create inaccessibility and price-gouging weirdness with our own unfettered FOMO. If we made the Weller weirdness, we can unmake it. If we care to.
But the proof is in the tasting. Here they are, tasted side by side, first in traditional Glencairns and then again in simple brandy glasses. These brief notes combine my tasting experiences with both glasses:
LARCENY – nice clear honey amber, tinting into orange
WELLER – similarly clear, more orange tinting into honey amber
LARCENY – soft wheat bread right up front, vanilla caramel, cinnamon in cream, faint apricot, very faint oak if I hunt for it
WELLER – bright caramel and apple up front, a bit of lemon keeping things fresh, some faint cream, a whiff of wheat bread
LARCENY – that soft breadiness, tangier than expected caramels, some butter and cinnamon, fruit like apples and apricots, faint oak tannins
WELLER – those creamy and sweet caramels, apple sauce with honey and butter, cinnamon, an oh so slightly oaky bitterness on swallowing
LARCENY – soft, warm and lightly peppery, buttery, a light edge of graininess and oak
WELLER – the caramel, cream, a mildly prickly pepperiness lingering
LARCENY – soft and bready, easygoing, like a partly cloudy Summer afternoon
WELLER – those signature bright Weller caramels and peppery zing, like a sunny Summer afternoon
LARCENY – Another store pick, absolutely. It’s a great bargain for the quality.
WELLER – Same, so long as the price stays right.
Okay. So the obvious reason to compare these two bottles is they are wheated bourbons, store picks, and similarly priced. Whether one is “better” than the other is not of much interest to me. I like them both. They each offer a different experience with corn/wheat/barley mash bills. The Larceny leans into its soft breadiness, and this quality carries through from the nose to the finish. The Weller leans into its bright caramels, which likewise make a through-line from start to finish.
The Weller tastes like Weller, and my sense memory can’t locate another specific bourbon reminiscent of it. The breadiness of the Larceny, however, takes me straight back to the 1792 Sweet Wheat, another excellent wheated bourbon. Looking back on my notes for the 1792, they indeed share remarkable similarities. They’re also priced roughly within range of one another. I’d love to compare them. The Weller, on the other hand, is immediately distinct from both the Larceny and 1792 Sweet Wheat with its emphasis on those bright caramel apple notes.
So my preference will depend on my mood. Am I wanting caramel? Weller. Hankering for good bread? Larceny. Do I have more energy? Weller. Am I feeling more laidback? Larceny. Do I need a sunny pick me up? Weller. Do I want to lean in to my low-key reflective side? Larceny.
I recommend store picks of either of these bourbons. Naturally those you find will be different than the two I’ve picked up. The fun of store picks is their potential for singularity. The whole single barrel phenomenon is a way for whiskey aficionados to explore the variances created by individual barrels, weather patterns, and time. Lucky for me, both of these picks were very well picked! This is my second bottle of the 2019 Bourbon County / Fred’s Liquor Weller Special Reserve pick, and I am so glad to have it. This is my first bottle of the SFWTC Larceny store pick, and I’m likewise so glad to have it. Being a person of many moods, it’s nice to have options!