Well, if you’re in the mood for a well-matured, smooth, mellow bourbon, then you could do worse than to choose between Maker’s Mark and Larceny. Each is a fantastic bourbon, both excellent whiskeys to try neat or on the rocks, whether at home or out at your favorite bar or pub.
Let’s see how these two American whiskey heavyweights match up.
Round 1: History
The history of Maker’s Mark goes back to 1954. The brand began distilling in Loretto, Kentucky, when Bill Samuels, Sr., purchased the Burk’s Distillery. It was a family affair from the start. In fact, the brand’s name, the label, its spelling of ‘whisky,’ and the bottle’s identifiable red wax seal were contributed by Bill Senior’s wife Marjie — a Bourbon Hall of Fame inductee in her own right. Bottles were originally dipped into wax in the kitchen of the family home. Later, Bill Samuels, Jr., took over for his father and continued as Master Distiller until his retirement in 2011. Today, Bill Junior’s son, Rob Samuels, is chief operating officer and has a major hand in running the Maker’s Mark brand.
Larceny Bourbon’s origin story is based around the historical figure of John E. Fitzgerald — a bonding agent from the 19th century. Historically, Fitzgerald was known to steal generous samples from the barrels he watched over, hence the keyhole iconography on the label. However, the brand was launched as a fully-formed concept by parent-company Heaven Hill in 2012. It is not lost on bourbon lovers that another well-beloved bourbon from Heaven Hill is the Old Fitzgerald brand, which is also wheated and has become one of the most beloved bourbons for enthusiasts and whiskey hunters.
Round 1: Maker’s Mark has come out on top after a furious opening round.
Round 2: Ownership
Large, international spirits companies own both brands. But that’s okay — large corporations can make damned good whiskey, too. In fact, their economies-of-scale can make some incredible things happen when it comes to making barrel magic happen.
Larceny Bourbon Whiskey is made by Heaven Hill, which is headquartered in Bardstown, Kentucky. Although Heaven Hill has a large stable of spirits brands, it remains a family-owned company.
Maker’s Mark has a long ownership story. Today, it is owned by Beam-Suntory. Suntory is headquartered in Osaka, Japan, and took ownership of the brand when it acquired the Chicago-based Beam Inc., in 2014.
Round 2 is a draw. Both of these brands come from powerhouse outfits with centuries’ worth of whiskey distilling prowess.
Round 3: Mash Bills
This matchup is interesting in that both Maker’s Mark and Larceny Bourbon are both wheated bourbons.
‘Wheated bourbon’ is a term used to describe a bourbon that uses wheat as its major flavoring grain. You see, to carry the term ‘Bourbon’ on the label, a whiskey must contain 51 percent corn by legal definition. The rest of the mashbill — or list of ingredients used during fermentation — can be any grains of the distiller’s choosing. All bourbons have a percentage of malted barley because the enzymes in that grain aid in the saccharification process.
Rye is the most common flavoring grain. So, the term wheated whiskey is used to describe a bourbon that is predominantly corn but uses wheat as the predominant flavoring grain and has little-to-no rye.
While rye grain is known for bold and spicy flavors, wheat contributes soft, round and mellow attributes to the resulting whiskey. Both Larceny and Maker’s Mark use wheat in the mashbill and contain no rye grain. Interestingly, both Maker’s Mark and Larceny highlight the use of proprietary yeast strains during fermentation.
Round 3: Draw. It’s weird when two southpaws box…
Round 4: Maturation
By legal definition, any product with the term ‘Bourbon’ on the label must be matured in new American charred oak barrels. They are both ‘Straight Bourbon’ whiskeys, which means that each barrel used in each product was aged a minimum of two years. Although both products have a mature profile, both are NAS — no age statement — whiskeys, so we do not know the exact age of the liquid in the bottles. Both are matured in the mild Kentucky climate.
Round 4 is another draw.
Round 5: Distillation
Each of these bourbons is distilled using top-of-the-line industrial production techniques. Both are column distilled from a wheated bourbon mash. Both are distilled in Kentucky — Maker’s Mark at its Loretto distillery and Larceny at the Heaven Hill Springs Distillery in Bardstown.
Round 5 — Draw!
Round 6: Price Point & Value
Larceny is bottled at 92-proof and costs about $27 for a 750mL bottle. Maker’s Mark is 90-proof and will set you back about $30 per 750mL bottle.
How do they make it so good and sell it so cheap?
The low-price-point to high-value ratio of these two heavyweights explains why these are two of the best selling wheated bourbon brands when it comes to per-annum volume.
The judges score Larceny the better value. Round 6 goes to Larceny Bourbon!
Round 7: Tasting Notes
Nose: Wheat grain gives sweet honey character to this bourbon, along with vanilla and cherry notes.
Tongue: Distinct sweet caramel flavor, along with toffee, butterscotch and honey notes.
Finish: Long and nutty, with almond, walnut, apricot and vanilla.
[Related: Complete Larceny Bourbon Review]
Nose: New oak and cherry aromas, with honey, soft wheat and malted cereal notes.
Tongue: Sweet honey, vanilla, maple syrup and almond flavors.
Finish: Lingering maraschino cherry, chocolate, clove and baking spices.
[Related: Complete Maker’s Mark Bourbon Review]
Value, or name recognition. You decide.
As one of the Top 10 selling whiskeys by volume in both the United States and the World, Maker’s Mark is definitely the more well-known brand. But the up-and-coming Larceny offers a little more bang-for-buck, which might explain why it is quickly growing in terms of year-on-year sales volume.
The bad news is the judges couldn’t make up their minds when it comes to these excellent, world-class wheated bourbon whiskeys. But the good news is this is a win-win for any bourbon geek, whiskey fanatic, or enthusiast wanting to add a great selection to their bar.
In fact, a blind tasting of these two brands side-by-side is an excellent way to introduce your palate to the nuanced sub-category of Kentucky Straight Wheated Bourbon Whiskey. That way, your taste buds are the real winner!
Seven rounds, and it’s a draw. But we’re all richer for having learned more about how these two wheated contenders match up head-to-head.