I owe Taylor for this one. Now quickly publish this before I consider retracting the opening statement.
I have now identified that just as Midwesterners go through a mild self-diagnosed version of seasonal depression every winter, so too do whiskey drinkers. We love our chosen spirit category but we grow tired of things at least once a year if we are truly in the game. We grow tired of pricing, marketing tactics and especially those awful “influencers.” I know that I am part of the problem. As a reviewer, meme creator and mediocre video star, I have contributed to the non-stop algorithm assault on your whiskey senses.
So let me offer this story of an experience that centered me and renewed my love for this hobby and the people in it.
The stage is late fall. A charity bourbon event has been organized and I have been invited by one Taylor Cope. Yes, the same guy that I said I owed for this one. The event benefited the American Heart Association of Kentucky and took place in the magical city of Louisville. I’ll take any chance I can to make it down to that state and enjoy the lands native spirit in it’s native home state.
At the time I was “done” with the bourbon scene. I spend way too much time no social media and have admitted that I am part of the problem. As much as we hate new bottles and marketing campaigns, you must imagine the fatigue sets in quicker when it seems the same group of 20 to 25 influencers are all heralding the newest NDP with a price tag north of $50 at the same time.
Sigh. Even those that I have respected were taking part in the game. It seems everyone has a new label. A new opportunity. A new reason to believe. It’s great. I applaud people getting opportunities and growth. However, I have limited time and funds to devote to my whiskey collection, and there are times when I feel that supporting the brands I know and love comes at the opportunity cost of the new kids on the block. Am I missing out?
This all probably sounds familiar to you.
In the weeks leading up to the event I had a good set of earmuffs when it came to anything bourbon. I needed a reset mentally. I was over the social media glossiness. The pretty bottle pictures. The bourbon bro culture of bottles with guns, watches or other Veblen goods.
Then came the dinner and auction, to which I donated some bottles. I was thrilled that my bottles contributed to a good cause. Maybe this would redeem my bourbon soul. I purchased a bottle that was older than myself, finally acquiring a whiskey that was bottled before my birthdate. A checkmark for my personal collection. Then I sat back in amazement as the big boys stepped up and dropped gigantic amounts of money for barrels, tours and incredible once in a lifetime bottles.
If anything, I was once again in awe that the community of whiskey lovers can show off. In the chase for this brown liquid there are very good hearts out there. At the end of the night regular folks like myself had a chance to take pictures with bourbon royalty. Many of these giants are more gracious than even their good reputations would suggest (see: Pat Heist, Andrea Wilson, and Joseph Magliocco; do not ever hesitate to support any of these wonderful people, BTW).
So, you think that a super glitzy charity ball charmed me, don’t you?
No, this was still part of the stage setting. You see I had totally forgot, or maybe Taylor never mentioned that there would be a bottle share later that night at the hotel.
I felt unprepared. I had some purchases from the previous week still in my car. Thank goodness for my totally rational fear of the wrath that would come if my wife caught another bottle being brought into the house. In my car was an Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, Larceny Barrel Proof, and an Elijah Craig 18.
The ECBP seemed too pedestrian. Everyone had tasted those by now, I was sure. The EC18? Too low proof for this crowd, I bet and the price tag and age statement might have made me look like a poser.
The choice? Larceny Barrel Proof. This series has never let me down. You know me and my allegiance to wheat. When done correctly, it makes for epic bourbons and this series doesn’t seem to get the love and underground buzz that I think it deserves. Surely, this bottle would be a hit and seen as a smart collectors pick?
I headed up the stairs to the second floor of the hotel lobby, where a boisterous group had two long tables of whiskey lined up, while another VIP section had curated an immaculate selection on a square table to the right of the walkway. As I grounded my fight on that upper level, I looked to the VIP area…
Limited edition Wild Turkeys, Wellers and other big hitters with fancy boxes indicated that the folks at this section were not playing around. I let out a low whistle at the cavalcade of decadence/generosity at that table and turned toward the long tables to place my bottle and survey what the mortals were drinking.
A quick glance told me that indeed I had ventured to the top of Mount Olympus with the equivalent of a rust key in my hand. Dusty Wild Turkey, Kentucky Owl (the good ones), Heaven Hill 17, Rare Character selections by Rare Bird, New upstart brands like Subtle Spirits and several allocated bourbons made me melt with embarrassment.
I have a motto in life that I don’t want to go out owing anybody anything. So, when I show up to the bottle share and I don’t have something I deem rare or special I feel inadequate. Maybe my taste in bourbon is messed up. This Larceny wasn’t going to punch its weight.
My bourbon heart was sinking but warm. I needed a moment. I headed outside to partake in another bad habit of mine: Cigars. The night is cool this fall night in Louisville, but I step outside. A generous gentleman from Omaha offers a stupendous cigar and a light. He knows everyone.
A random couple who had been in town for a concert spoke to him. They had met earlier in the hotel lobby before their dinner and show. He invites them up to the bottle share. They seem perplexed. Free bourbon? Free rare bourbon? He encourages them to go ahead and explore. Nobody wants to take the bottles back home, and the more that is shared, the merrier.
They head inside and I smile. Those folks have no idea the amazing lineup that is upstairs and – while they probably won’t appreciate the rarity of what they will sample – I hope they appreciate the generosity. After a rush of tobacco has awakened me for the rest of the night, I head inside. Maybe I can pour something with a clear conscience if I see that the bottle has been opened.
It has not.
I take a seat on the couch and meet a history teacher from the Midwest. A noble profession and we speak about the challenges of educating the youth on history and the lessons they should take from it. He leaves for another pour and leaves me to speak with the hero of our story.
I do not know his name. I never asked for it. I should have. We spoke about all the great whiskies there and what was the best thing he had tasted.
He said that all of the drinks he had were fine but he was waiting on one in particular.
He’s handed a glass and swirls it. He takes a deep smell and has a look of contentment that could have made me believe he was the third man on the beach at the end of The Shawshank Redemption.
“Been waiting for this. Cream of Kentucky. That’s my drink.” He says.
He is a huge fan of Jim Rutledge and has followed his career. I don’t ask what makes Cream of Kenucky his drink. Is it Rutledge? The nose? The taste? I wanted to be a nuisance interviewer and then remembered that this was real life. Let people be…
Then it happened. The hero moment.
Whispers of a legendary pour began to circulate amongst the crowd. A 1968, 10 year old Very Old Fitzgerald had entered the chat.
Stitzel-Weller fever had broken out, and there was only one cure. People began to scramble. I myself got nervous and wondered how I could negotiate a pour. I had just poured a 1990 Austin Nichols Wild Turkey that was amazing, and I couldn’t just pour that out. Would I be able to drink this in time to negotiate a drip of that wheated goodness?
While I might be exaggerating the scramble that came to be when the Old Fitzgerald showed up I will not exaggerate our hero and his reaction.
There he sat. Left leg crossed over his right knee. Glass in hand. He was still nosing his Cream of Kentucky. That same look of contentment. His sport coat unmoved. His left hand on the couch he showed no signs of moving.
“Stitzel-Weller over there…” One patron said as he nudged the man.
He shook his head and never missed a whiff of that Cream of Kentucky. The gentle nod of his head shrugged off the urgency that others were radiating. He had found his pour… and that’s all he wanted. That is all he needed.
A moment of clarity hit me. We all have our pour. When it comes, we should enjoy it. When we find it, savor it. Who cares how many likes our pour gets? Who cares how many views it gets? Who cares what score some reviewer gives it? If it’s your pour and you like it… that’s all that matters.
I sat back and never thanked my new role model. I savored that Austin Nichols Wild Turkey and in doing so, realized why all the fuss. Indeed, old Turkey is that good. XX
I did manage a taste of that Very Old Fitzgerald. To say that “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” is an understatement in that situation. It is also mind-blowing that somebody found it in their heart to share that bottle with everyone. Luckily, an impeccably dressed Oklahoman in cowboy boots had been handed that bottle and found it in his heart to pour me some. A lifelong memory, for sure.
So as the night wound down pizzas were ordered. Hearts full. Wishes fulfilled. Empty bottles cleared. The only unopened bottle left that night? My Larceny C922.
So, on this February night I crack it to share my review with you.
Larceny Barrel Proof Batch C922 – Review
126.6 proof (63.3% ABV). SRP of $59.99.
Color: Iced tea.
On the nose: Spicy Golden Grahams. That syrupy maple and honey drip is just broadcasting hints of clove.
In the mouth: That dark cherry cola that I know from Larceny is in the background here, but in this edition it takes a backseat. Indeed, dark chocolate has made this more of a rich cherry cordial but it maintains its sweetness instead of heading towards savory and woody. The wood spice appears towards the end but never takes over, as a brioche French toast holds it back. The finish makes you think it will turn tannic or acidic, and yet never does. A black tea with dark chocolate makes you realize you have drank one of the finer expressions in this series.
I didn’t want to score this highly for fear that it would make me seem like I was redeeming myself. Could this be an 8? It is almost therem but for sure this is no 6. 7 is a safe spot, with some of my other favorites of the past year.
I always find it amazing that the Larceny Barrel Proof tends to exhibit flavors of whiskies that do not have wheated mash bills. Many contribute this to the higher entry proof that is used by Heaven Hill. Still, I thought this to be the right bottle to review in order to tell my tale of how I once again fell in love with this hobby. Cheers!