We’ve been building our library of bourbon reviews steadily over the past couple of months, and the past several seem to have involved a lot of references to Stitzel-Weller and wheated bourbons.  I’m not particularly a fan of wheated bourbons, but with the popularity of the Pappy Van Winkle offerings, they seem to be en vogue at the moment, so I thought what better time to cover two more wheaters than now, and what better way to do it than a head to head throw-down between two very popular and available wheated bourbons: W.L. Weller and Larceny?

I will post these reviews individually as well, so you can find them separately in the archive.

What they are:

Both of these bourbons are “wheated” bourbons.  They use wheat as the secondary mash grain rather than rye.  Wheat tends to add a velvety creaminess to the texture of the bourbon and sweetness to the taste, rather than the traditional spiciness of rye, the more common secondary grain.

Larceny is a small batch wheated bourbon from the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville as part of the Heaven Hill family of spirits.  The name derives from stories of John E. Fitzgerald (of Old Fitzgerald family fame)’s habit of using his personal keys to the bourbon warehouses to ‘liberate’ barrels of his favorite bourbon to give to family and friends.  There have been numerous reports that Heaven Hill intends to replace the Old Fitzgerald line with larceny, but they are thus far unconfirmed.

Larceny is a small batch bourbon (100 barrels or less) of barrels from the middle three floors of the aging warehouse.  The barrels that go into each batch are aged anywhere from 6 to 10 years.   It is bottled at 92 proof.  I bought this bottle for $23 at a local big box store.

W.L. Weller is produced in Frankfort, KY at the massive Buffalo Trace Distillery.  In years past, it was owned by the Van Winkle family and produced at the famed Stitzel-Weller distillery.  Today, it shares the mash bill of the Pappy offerings, though the aging locations, times, and barrel choices differ.  Though age statements have been removed from the label, W.L. Weller is a 5-7 year old bourbon bottled at 90 proof.  My bottle was a barrel-select program from the same big box store, and cost $20.

Wheated bourbon throwdown 2

Packaging:

Larceny is packaged in a square, almost hourglass-shaped bottle with a cream label and black wrapper over the cork.  Yes, this bourbon is corked, rather than sealed with a screw-top.  That it sometimes unusual for a bourbon at this price range.  It is, overall, a very attractive packaging, and could be used for a much more expensive product.

W.L. Weller is packaged in a squat, rounded bottle similar to the other two standard Weller offerings.  It has a white plastic screen-printed label and green screw top.  It proudly declares itself “The original Wheated Bourbon.”  The packaging reflects the price, which is to say “It looks cheap.”

Advantage: Larceny.

Appearance:Wheated Bourbon Throwdown 1

Larceny is a medium amber with some deep tints, while W.L. Weller is a touch lighter in shade with golden hints.

Advantage: Tie

Aroma:

The first whiff of Larceny brings out a quick hint of simple syrup sweetness.  It is followed up by bakery goods and corn.  There are some citrus notes and ripe bananas on the back end.

Weller begins sweet on the nose as well; however the sweetness is more fruit-based.  There is the corn, but it is followed by apricot and orange with hints of vanilla.

Advantage: Weller

Taste:

The Larceny began with a distinctive prickle on the front of the tongue from the wheat that carried over to the rest of the tasting.  It isn’t unpleasant, but it’s unique to Heaven Hill’s wheated offerings (see our review of Old Fitz 12 Year).  Under the prickling sensation is a creaminess that coats the tongue with flavors of sweet syrup, caramel, only a little vanilla, but plenty of bakery goods such as wedding cake and frosting.

Weller begins with a crisp citrusy sweetness on the tip of the tongue.  There are hints of honey, strong peach and apricot with orange peel and heavy fruit on the back of the tongue.  Weller seems a little ‘thin’ for a wheated bourbon, lacking the tongue-coating texture of some older wheated bourbons.

Advantage: Larceny

Finish:

Larceny is a medium to short finish, clean, with that lingering texture and the taste of baked goods on the end.

Weller is a very short finish, very clean and crisp, with faint hints of citrus on the back of the tongue.

Advantage: Can’t beat that texture.  Larceny takes this one.

Synopsis:

Larceny most definitely carries much of the same DNA as the Old Fitzgerald line of whiskey, which probably adds fuel to the fire for rumors of the discontinuation of the Old Fitz brand name altogether.  Larceny is a very tasty bourbon in the same vein as other Louisville-made wheated bourbons of ages past.  One might be inclined to argue that Louisville has created a sub-niche within the bourbon world with the wheated bourbons beginning with the old Stitzel-Weller distillery (now closed) and carrying through to the present-day Bernheim distillery.   Regardless, Larceny drinks like a much more expensive bourbon.  It’s very similar in many ways to the Old Fitzgerald 12 Year offering, and only really differs in the aging, to my taste.  It’s so similar, in fact, that I wouldn’t hesitate to say that at $10-15 cheaper, it’s so close to the Old Fitz 12 that it may be imperceptibly different to most palates, but not to most wallets.

Larceny: 86 out of 100 points.

What does that score mean?

W.L. Weller has received an awful lot of talk recently with the common bones it shares with its more refined cousins at Pappy Van Winkle.  But let me say this to those of you hoarding this like it is Pappy Van Winkle bourbon:  It isn’t.  Stop it.  It’s solid, especially for the price.  But you are not getting a cheaper version of the same whiskey here.  This is a young bourbon for a wheater, and suffers the same flaws younger wheat bourbons suffer from.  It’s a little thin, lacks a lot of punch, and the wheat hasn’t had enough time in the barrel to develop the textures that make Pappy and other wheated bourbons so pleasing on the tongue.  It is not a bad bourbon.  But it is not a great one either, nor is it even the best option in its price range for fans of wheated bourbons in particular.  It is drinkable and affordable.

W.L. Weller: 84 out of 100 points.

What does that score mean?

There you have it.  These bourbons grade out very similarly in the long run.  They are very similar in price, mash bill, and appeal.  However, Larceny pulls away the win here based largely on the superior texture and wider depth of flavor.


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About Author

Bill is the Co-Founder, Editor-in Chief, and official Bourbon-o-Phile for ModernThirst.com. He is a native of Louisville, KY in the heart of Bourbon Country. He attended the University of Kentucky in the mid to late 1990s. Since college, he has dabbled in beer, bourbon, wine tasting, beer making, and currently works in finance. He has also been published on Liquor.com. He has conducted various bourbon and whiskey tastings in cities across the country. He is married with two daughters, and lives in east Louisville. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter @BillStraub and email him at Bill@ModernThirst.com.

16 Comments

  1. Pingback: Bourbon Review: W.L. Weller | ModernThirst.com

  2. Pingback: Bourbon Review: Larceny | ModernThirst.com

  3. Pingback: December Bourbon of the Month: Larceny | ModernThirst

  4. Love Larceny. Can’t get it in Michigan though. I have to order it online and almost pay double the cost because of shipping. But it’s worth it and in my opinion is better than Makers 46 or some other pricier products. Bernheim Wheat Whisky is another very good offering from Heaven Hill. This one I can get in Michigan.

    • For whatever reason, Heaven Hill seems to get a lot more barrel-forward flavors in their products. So while the mash bill with Larceny and other wheaters is similar, there is a lot more char and wood to it, in my opinion. Plus, it’s older.

      I’m a fan of both larceny and Bernheim.

  5. The WL Weller 12 (black label) is the one being hoarded the most, followed by the Weller Anitque. When you mix those two you get the poor man’s pappy, and it’s real good. My personal favorite is the WL Weller 12 but I can’t find it anymore here in NY. I can find plenty of the special reserve. It’s good but pales when compared to the Weller black label (12). I will have to try some Larceny and Bernheim though.

    • Love the Weller 12. It’s great stuff. I’ve only found Weller 12 on the shelves here once in the past 2-3 years.

      We are developing some relationships in NY at the moment, so we may have some insight for you in the future of some great places to look.

  6. Great review. This is the the whiskey that turned my in-laws into bourbon drinkers! It’s a fantastic option for mixing, but smooth enough to drink neat. Brown sugar with that classic soft, sweet lingering finish you get from wheated whiskey. If you are a Makers Mark, W.L. Weller, or Old Fitzgerald fan, this is a must. A bit on the thin side, I’d love to see a barrel proof version of this someday (hint hint Heaven Hill).

  7. I know bourbon is all subject to taste (like all spirits) but I would not even begin to compare these two. The Wellers 12 is in a completely different class. I find the Larceny to feel and tastemuch too “young”. I kept thinking it needed to breath, as i feel all wheater’s do, but it never opened up for me. Through my years of tasting bourbons, I think the sweet spot for wheated really starts after 10 years. In trying all the Pappy line, I found the 23 to be too “oaky”. Ideally the Pappy 15 is the perfect bourbon in my opinion. Those who say it is “overrated” usually say it because they do not have a bottle. I have had 3 or 4 and all were spectacular. I do feel that the quality of these is dropping slightly since they are no longer “stitzel weller” , and now completely Buffalo Trace.
    So going back to my original statement, the Wellers 12 is a fantastic wheated bourbon. The Larceny tastes more like the Makers in my opinion. OK, but not in the same league with any of the Weller line. To the previous poster who mentions blending the 12 and the Antique, I have done this. I found the taste notes to be more similar to the Van Winkle 10 year, not the 15. And if you can locate the Van Winkle 10 year, make sure you get the 107 proof…it is far more complex than the 90.
    A more fitting comparison would be between the Weller’s 12 and the Old Fitzgerald 12. Both are very good, but I would give the edge to the Wellers for it’s complexity.

  8. I like/drink both bourbons, but I drink mine neat and the Larceny has (for me) an unpleasant ethanol “shot” up the back of my nose at room temp. I chill the Larceny in the fridge and that sensation goes away when it’s chilled (but not with ice…up?).

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