Whiskey Review: Fistful of Bourbon

I’m generally a fan of the products coming out of William Grant & Sons. From their Hudson Manhattan Rye to their Monkey Shoulder Scotch, they have a solid product line with something for every occasion. Many of their most successful brands owe their popularity to the quality of the blending (Monkey Shoulder being a solid example) — so when I heard that they were making a blended bourbon that paid homage to one of my favorite spaghetti westerns, I knew I had to give it a shot.


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History

In 1886, William Grant invested his entire life savings into opening the Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown, Scotland to make scotch whisky. He had been working at the Mortlach distillery (opened in 1823) but dreamed of making his own mark on the industry. The first spirit was successfully run through the Glenfiddich stills on Christmas Day 1887, and the business was launched by selling to distributors who combined this product with that of other distilleries to make the blends that were popular in those days.

His business was successful, and in 1892 he decided to expand to a second facility to increase production and started converting the Balvenie mansion (located a few hundred yards to the north of Glenfiddich’s operation) into a distillery. The process took fifteen months and on May 1st, 1893, the first distillation run at the new Balvenie distillery took place.

The two distilleries would maintain their own brands but the company that owns them would come to be called “William Grant & Sons” — it and would far outlast both William Grant and his son, expanding over the years to include many other distilleries and brands. While the company may have been the first to introduce a “single malt” spirit from their Glenfiddich distillery, they also excelled in blending spirits from their various distilleries to create delicious blends such as Monkey Shoulder.

The company remains one of the last large independent family owned distilling operations in Scotland.

Fistful of Bourbon is a brand created by William Grant & Sons that draws on the company’s experience in blending different flavors to create excellent spirits and tries to do that for the American bourbon market.

Product

This is a blend of five strains of bourbon, each adding their own particular essence to the mix (theoretically, the strains specifically add sweet, floral, buttery toffee, warm spice, and licorice components) in just the right proportions to be delicious.

As a blend, there’s very little information that is required to be on the bottle and even less information about the source of those spirits. But we do have some details we can suss out.

Since this is labeled as a bourbon, each individual strain is made from a grain bill that must contain at least 51% corn, but can include other grains as well. Those grains are cooked and fermented to create a mildly alcoholic liquid that is then distilled and placed into charred new oak barrels for a short period of time to mature.

Some sources indicate that this comes from a blend of “straight” bourbons, which would require two years in the barrel before bottling — but that isn’t listed on the bottle itself. As such, the only assurance we have is that these spirits sat in a barrel for at least a few seconds, but it is probably longer than that.

Packaging

This is a pretty cool design for an inexpensive bottle of bourbon.

Overall, the impression is that of a western hip flask with a rectangular cross section and a square body that rounds quickly into a short and stubby neck. The bottle is capped off with a wood and cork stopper.

While the bottle might be somewhat western in style, the label is actually much reminiscent of a coffee shop chalkboard. It seems strange at first, but I think it actually works. There’s a black background with white and blue lettering that flows around the central logo and label.

Neat

Right off the bat, there’s something different going on here compared to the usual bourbon. I’m getting the toffee caramel, brown sugar, and vanilla aromas as you would expect — but there’s also some raw corn and licorice adding an earthy component. It isn’t completely out of the ballpark when it comes to bourbon flavors, but it’s definitely out in left field a bit.

Those aromas do translate nicely into a delightfully balanced flavor profile. It starts out sweet and delicious with some brown sugar and caramel before picking up a touch of vanilla. From there, it actually develops into what I’d call “buttered toast” — some malty bread-like components mixed with a nice chunk of mouthfilling butter. There’s a flash of licorice root adding some earthiness at the end, but the finish is more of that buttered bread maltiness.

In general, this feels a bit watery when taken neat, without a ton of saturation. But the flavors are all there, and they are more than I’d usually expect in a blended whiskey.

On Ice

The flavors in this bourbon were lightly saturated and watery when taken neat, which made me a little trepidatious to add some ice. And unfortunately, my instincts were proven correct.

Instead of a full orchestra of flavors, this is down to a couple soloists. I’m getting some brown sugar and a bit of licorice and… that’s it. There’s no complexity or development, and definitely none of the light, interesting bread-like flavors I saw when taken neat. It seems to have just fallen apart.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

I thought I made this cocktail wrong at first. I added the usual components in the usual order and the usual quantities, but the drink came out significantly more bitter than I remember other old fashioned cocktails. So I went back and tried again, this time halving the amount of bitters I used… but it was still essentially the same result. This is just an unfortunately bitter drink.

The problem is that there’s not much flavor in this spirit for the bitters to work against. The spirit wasn’t well saturated at the start, which means there isn’t much flavor left once you add the ice cubes — and what flavor we did get was fairly simple and lacking depth. There might have been a touch of sweetness available but it is nowhere near enough to balance out the bitters, even with a dash of simple syrup in support.

Fizz (Mule)

It feels like, at this point, the bourbon has just given up the ghost. It’s primarily just the ginger beer and lime juice in the flavor profile, and the only thing I might possibly see from the bourbon is a hint of licorice — if I search really hard for it.

This is less of a Kentucky Mule and more of an unbalanced Moscow Mule. Even doing an overly generous 1:1 pour with the bourbon still leaves you sadly searching for any hint of bourbon flavor.


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Overall Rating

The term “spaghetti western” refers to a swath of wild west style movies that were directed by Italian directors (and often shot in Italy as well). The 1964 movie A Fistful of Dollars (starring Clint Eastwood in his first leading role) was arguably the first of this genre, and one of the better movies in my opinion. Now, don’t get me wrong… I love a good spaghetti western. But most of them fall into a trap of Italian directors creating their idealized vision of the American Wild West without having ever seen the west in person.

So it is pretty fitting to it’s name that this bourbon is a spaghetti western of bourbons: it tastes like someone from Scotland created it from whole cloth without fully understanding how a bourbon should perform. It’s great at first glance, with some really nice flavors when taken neat, but it doesn’t stand up to even the most lightweight cocktails.

There’s a scene in the movie A Fistful of Dollars where our nameless hero is trapped in a wine cellar surrounded by casks, being beaten by the evil family of the town. They leave and come back a few minutes later, only to be crushed to death as the nameless hero rolls a wine cask straight into the door they just walked through. That feels like an apt analogy for the flavors in this spirit: perfectly fine all alone, but a single ice cube is the wine cask here. Add it to the mix and it just kills all the flavors.

There’s nothing terrible in here. And for the price point, that’s not necessarily a disqualifying performance. But it is a bit disappointing. Personally, I’d have appreciated a little less Sergio Leone and a little more Lucio Fulci.

WG&S Fistful of Bourbon
Produced By: WG&S
Owned By: William Grant and Sons
Production Location: United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $25.25 / 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: 2/5
Delicious flavors when taken neat, but try it in a cocktail and things fall apart.


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