William Grant & Sons is one of the powerhouses of the scotch whisky world, being the third largest producer of scotch whisky after megalithic Diageo and Pernod Ricard. Most of the whisky they produce comes in the form of several large, famed brands—notably, Glenfiddich and Balvenie, along with Ireland’s Tullamore. They also produce one of the more well-liked blended malts on the market in the form of Monkey Shoulder. One thing they’ve never had a stake in, though? American bourbon.
That is, until now, with the nationwide launch of William Grant & Sons’ “Fistful of Bourbon,” a blend of five American straight bourbon whiskeys. Overseen by William Grant & Sons Master Distiller Brian Kinsman and Master Blender Kelsey McKechnie, this is the company’s overture to an entirely new market. It seems pretty clear to me that the goal is to create “a Monkey Shoulder for bourbon,” targeting the low-to-mid shelf with a quality offering that benefits from the complexity of blending five distinct bourbons.
Where those bourbons come from, we have no particular idea, although the fact that William Grant & Sons also owns American company Tuthilltown Spirits, producers of Hudson Baby Bourbon, would suggest that some of their distillate may well be included. Regardless, the blended bourbon first showed up in a limited 2018 release in Texas, before finally making its national debut now, in 2020. It carries no age statement, but must be at least two years old for the “straight” designation, and is bottled at a fairly modest 45% ABV (90 proof). With an MSRP of $25, it seems aimed at the next step up from bottom shelf mixers, competing against the likes of Heaven Hill’s Elijah Craig Small Batch, Maker’s Mark or Old Forester 100 Proof.
The only other details the company offers on the five bourbons that make up their “fistful” is providing a few basic tasting notes for each individual whiskey, which read as follows:
— #1: “Balanced and sweet”
— #2: “Green, leafy floral notes”
— #3: “Soft spices and hints of nutmeg”
— #4: “Buttery toffee”
— #5: “Cinnamon and licorice”
There’s also the well-executed video campaign, which plays up the brand’s spaghetti western-inspired iconography and bottle, inserting it into what looks like a gentle parody of Sergio Leone.
It’s time to actually get to tasting, however, and see what kind of blend the company put together.
On the nose, Fistful of Bourbon strikes me a bit on the muted side, with elements of cornbread and buttered popcorn—some younger bourbon graininess as well—met by notes of fresh grass and anise-like spice. It’s a bit on the “green” side, with fresh oak and slightly vegetal note, but not much ethanol to speak of, which seems to promise a pretty easy drinking dram.
On the palate, things are a bit more interesting, with sweetness that leads off in a slightly grainy-doughy way—cream of wheat, cornbread and vanilla pudding—before transitioning into the same sort of green oak and grassiness. There’s a sweet herbaceousness here that is interesting, somewhat rye grain-like, with additional notes of florals, anise and lots of pepper. That pepper/anise thing almost makes this play like a bourbon-rye hybrid in my mind, but it’s met by a lot of fresh grassiness and green oak that hints at the young ages of the whiskeys involved here. Alcoholic heat is respectable on the palate for the relatively low proof, right about where you’d expect it to be.
All in all, Fistful of Bourbon isn’t quite what I was expecting, but it is interesting. It has less assertive classic bourbon notes (caramel, vanilla, toffee, older oak) than you think of as the standard profile for the style, and more of a fresh, green, herbal dimension in their place. It doesn’t necessarily stand out among the other competitors available at this low-to-midshelf price point, but neither does it fall behind them. Certainly, it seems like a pretty fair offering at the price point. If the flavor profile described seems to match your personal taste, it’s worth checking out.
Distillery: William Grant & Sons (sourced)
City: Bellshill, Scotland
Style: Blended straight bourbon
ABV: 45% (90 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $25 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.