Whiskey Review: Fierce & Kind Straight Cask Strength Bourbon

In my recent review of Fierce & Kind Straight Bourbon Whiskey, I skipped over the best part: my meeting with Basem Harb, CEO and co-founder of Fierce & Kind Spirits. We had exchanged some messages a while back and agreed to meet up and try some of their bourbon in person the next time I was in San Diego. We met up for happy hour at the University Club, where they had just gotten a shipment of Fierce & Kind in stock, and I spent an hour or so talking (and tasting) bourbon with energetic and charismatic Harb, who wants to influence change through spirits. After the meeting, I ordered my bottle of Barrel Strength Bourbon (along with the recently reviewed standard bourbon), and I couldn’t wait to share it with you all.



In 2020, Basem Harb and Cyndi Smith founded Fierce & Kind Spirits. Harb (a lifelong entrepreneur) and Smith (who had spent her long career in corporate leadership) wanted to create a business allowing them to give back to the community while cultivating a product that brings people together.

They felt that getting into the spirits business would allow them to best accomplish those goals. They “believe spirits have a unique power to bring people together and the act of sharing a drink with someone is a sacred, communal moment”. And they are able to accomplish this through a 100% employee and consumer owned business model with an incredibly diverse leadership team.

Partnered with the company is the Fierce & Kind Equity Foundation. This foundation receives 25% of profits made through the spirits sales. The foundation does work focused around “social, political, economic, and climate justice, and to help build generational wealth for our communities”.

Currently, Fierce & Kind distributes to the California market, which a heavy concentration in southern California. They participate in many San Diego events and are starting to get their bottles in many local bars and restaurants. They also have an online store, where you can purchase their spirits and have them shipped to you – this was the route I took and it worked great (as usual for our site, we purchased this bottle independently and at market price).


Fierce & Kind doesn’t actually make any of their spirits yet. Instead, they work with a distilling partner in North Carolina and together they developed their proprietary mashbill and recipes for the new spirits company.

Like many new distilleries, Fierce & Kind started with vodka. A neutral grain spirit with no aging requirements (like vodka) allows any distillery to quickly establish itself and begin making a profit, so it’s a common first step for new distilleries. However, while other small distilleries will take it slow and move towards other unaged spirits like gin or rum before they dip a toe into the aged bottles, Fierce & Kind decided to jump directly to bourbon from vodka.

The folks at Fierce & Kind were kind enough to provide us with their mashbill, and they use 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley for this spirit. In their description, they specify that they use locally sourced grains, and Harb clarified that all of the grain used to make their bourbon is sourced from local farmers within a 20 mile radius of the distillery. In his own words, “staying sustainable and locally sourced is in keeping with our broader ethos of responsibility and doing good in our communities and for our community”.

After the mash is fermented, it is then distilled into a high-proof white whiskey. This is placed into new charred oak barrels and bottled as they hit maturity. In this case, the spirit spent two years and five months in a barrel before being considered good enough to be bottled for sale.

In the future, Fierce & Kind looks to age their whiskey for longer periods of time. They also are looking to experiment more with blending and finishing in partnership with California wineries.

This bottle is from the first run of their limited release single barrel cask strength bourbon, which is bottled at a whopping 56% ABV — a full ten points above their standard version.


This is a bottle shape that we see often with new distilleries: it’s a basic, medium-height round bottle with straight walls that round quickly at the shoulder and short neck. That bottle is topped off with black foil and a synthetic and plastic stopper. It’s a great size for a shelf and feels comfortable in your hand when you pour.

While the standard bottle of bourbon uses labeling that is printed directly on the glass, the cask strength variety uses a large heavy weight off-white paper that takes up a vast majority of the real estate on the bottle. 

The paper is embossed with their fox and bird logo, and the distillery name and spirit type runs up the left-hand side of the label. Near the top, written by hand are the alcohol percent, proof, bottle, and batch numbers.  I happened to purchase bottle 27 of 50 from batch number 1, which clocked in at 112.6 proof.

This bottle looks a little classier than the standard bourbon version, in my opinion, but I wish the label was a little less massive. The dark burnt umber spirit stands out really well against the label… I just wish you could see more of it.



The nose of this spirit is rich and flavorful, with a bold oaky aroma accompanied by a mild cinnamon sweetness. The thing that I find amazing is that you don’t really get a strong smell of alcohol, which can often accompany barrel strength bourbon.

Just like the smell, the flavor leads with a strong oaky note. While prominent, this woody flavor quickly moves aside to make room for a rich buttery sweetness.

Growing up, I would occasionally end up at my grandparents before school. For some reason, the breakfast of choice there was cinnamon toast – the kind where you douse the toast in melted butter and then sprinkle a healthy amount of cinnamon sugar mixture on top (and for someone reason, that mixture was always readily available). Diabetes-inducing nostalgia is the best way I can describe the flavor of this bourbon — buttery, sweet, and covered in cinnamon.

Unlike most barrel strength bourbons I’ve tasted, there is little to no burn. In fact, the finish is mostly the flavor of black coffee where I would normally expect pepper, with just the slightest hint of lemon.

For only spending two years in the barrel, this bourbon drinks wonderfully neat (and FYI – neat is the only way that Harb himself drinks it). 

On Ice

Unsurprisingly, when adding ice, many of the stronger flavors mellow out. The strong oaky flavor is still there, just not quite as powerful as it once was. The sweetness dulls, and the cinnamon becomes more of a generic baking spice flavor.

Surprisingly, the lemon citrus flavor seems to be more pronounced. I doubt that it actually got stronger, rather I think other flavors have dimmed, giving it more of the stage. There also seems to be a more significant burn on the rocks than we saw when taken neat.

I don’t want to say this is bad, though — it’s far from it. It’s just that, given the choice to drink it neat or on the rocks, I would never choose to add ice again.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

Does velvet have a taste? If so, this cocktail tastes like velvet. I feel like I am George Costanza right now:

George: I gotta find a way to work this out, I love that apartment. It’s so cozy, I’m ensconced in velvet. You know, if it were socially acceptable…
Jerry: I know, you would drape yourself in velvet.
George: I’ve said that before?
Jerry: Many times. You love velvet. You want to live in velvet. Everything with the velvet.

The sweet and rich flavors of this cocktail are balanced out by the bitters, making it smooth and inviting. It also allows for some additional heat and pepper to come out in the flavor profile. The sweetness we found when sipping this neat is still there, but not overpowering. 

If Harb is reading this, he is most likely cringing. I mentioned the standard Thirty One Whiskey review process (neat, rocks, cocktails, fizz), and the idea of using a bourbon like this create a high-end old fashioned did not really sit well with him. But what I can I say, we have our process, and we follow it… and thankfully, in this case, because now I know what velvet tastes like.

Fizz (Mule)

A bit of a letdown after the standout old fashioned, but still this Kentucky Mule is still a good cocktail. The strong oakiness holds its own against the ginger beer, but that is the biggest flavor that comes through.  Everything else gets lost.

Like I said, this is not a bad cocktail, but I would unquestionably go with an old fashioned or enjoy this neat before I used it for a Kentucky mule again.


Overall Rating

It’s nice to find a barrel strength bourbon that strikes a perfect balance between rich flavor and unbearable burning. I was worried that only seeing a barrel for two years would hurt this spirit, that it was removed too quickly and missed out on some of the more amazing flavors that would develop — but I think that’s actually what makes it work so well.

It’s found some mellowness, and has great flavor without being overwhelming. It makes one of the best old fashioned I’ve ever had and is also a perfect neat sipper. In short, it’s an excellent whiskey.

My only knock is the price. I know that it’s a new distillery and they need revenue coming in, but $140 feels steep. I think this is a common flaw of bourbons at this price point – take a look at Still Austin Distillery Reserve Four Grain Whiskey. This is a great product, but not quite outstanding enough to earn our full 5 stars at this price point.

I hope that they continue to evolve their product, and I look forward to trying this again when the bourbon can chill for a little more than a couple years.

Fierce & Kind Straight Cask Strength Bourbon
Produced By: Fierce & Kind
Production Location: United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: 2 Years
Proof: 56.3% ABV
Price: $140 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 4/5
A smooth yet rich barrel strength bourbon… if you are willing to open your wallet.


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