For all the exquisite and under-serviced single malts aging right now across Scotland, why would a publication expend words in a column dedicated to Scotch on a new bourbon? Because there’s simply so much binding both categories together in the just-released Fistful of Bourbon. From the innovation division of family-owned, global spirits powerhouse William Grant & Sons (known for prestigious Scotch brands The Balvenie and Glenfiddich, as well as Hendrick’s Gin and so much more), Fistful invokes the language of whisky blending, and the ideology behind blending’s inception. And with the “bourbonification” of Scotch enveloping so much of the market in delectable caramels and vanillas, this is the “Scotchifcation” of bourbon in some ways. Plus, it tastes great and only costs $25.
“We’ve been blending, predominantly Scotch whisky, for over 100 years,” explains Emily Ivers, Senior Brand Manager for Innovation at William Grant & Sons. “When we thought of where that might lead us next, our attention went to American whiskey. Bourbon continues to grow. It’s significantly outpacing other spirits—and walking into a liquor store, you’ll find so many new brands. We knew we had to stand out. That’s where we came to the idea of blending. It’s something we already do, day in and day out.”
William Grant & Sons already has their hands in American whiskey. They own Hudson—and its acclaimed production facility, Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery (a must-visit destination for any spirit lover). That, however, was a partnership-turned-purchase. Fistful, on the other hand, was an in-house development. This might sound like cause for alarm—that is, if it were spearheaded by anyone else—but Fistful has been helmed by Master Blender Brian Kinsman and whisk(e)y blender Kelsey McKechnie. The former is nothing short of an icon in the world of blending. Both work across the portfolio.
Kinsman and McKechnie created a brief—and began to source dozens upon dozens of whiskey samples from across the US. It then came down to tinkering. With Fistful (and all other large production whiskies), the recipe isn’t the proportion of liquids that are blended—it’s the final flavor profile. For this, the blenders sought green, leafy floral notes along with sweet, buttery toffee flavors–and a bit of spice. To accomplish this, they selected five straight whiskies. “They landed on this great blend of five, this fistful. It’s a magic number for them,” Ivers adds. These are noticeable with each sip, and while the 90 proof spirit punches hard at first, it yields to real complexity.
William Grant & Sons is staying quiet about where they source from, but they assure quality. “Because it’s a blend and so focused on this flavor profile, we’re not marrying ourselves to specific distilleries or even states for sourcing,” Ivers explains, “This gives us creative license to find the best liquid we can every time. We have a full team focused on sourcing.” She notes that they’ll continue to stick with a blend of five, though, even as they chase liquid year after year.
You may ask why anyone would make a big deal over blending. For instance, blended Scotches tend to sit behind single malts in prestige—despite the deserved success of Johnnie Walker, Dewar’s and many others. But the origin of blending, or at least the story associated with blending’s origin, is that it was done to guarantee quality and adhere to a desirable recipe; this is true in many spirit categories, cognac included. And it still holds true today, despite a few decades of awful blends used to meet demand and mask substandard spirits. Many bourbons happen to be blends, but it’s almost never something that’s been addressed. Ivers tells us, “We are proud of this because it shows people why blending is so powerful. It’s greater than the sum of its parts.” We agree—it’s deliciously easy to sip neat and is even and balanced enough to mix into cocktails.
Fistful of Bourbon launched exclusively in Texas. There’s no exact timeline yet for national distribution, but it’s excepted to roll out incrementally over the next two years.