Editor’s Note: A sample of this bourbon was provided to us by Heaven Hill. The Whiskey Wash, while appreciative of this, keeps full independent editorial control over this article.
Despite existing as part of the “bottom shelf value” tier in recent years, the Rebel Yell brand has been an important and storied part of the history of wheated bourbons in America.
Its recipe was originally created by Charles Farnsley, former mayor of Louisville, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the famed Stitzel-Weller distillery in the 1940’s. Rebel Yell was initially only produced for consumption (according to the bottle) in “the deep south,” but reached national popularity through a Billy Idol song in the 1980’s, and soon became a nationally distributed brand. (As the story goes, Idol had an epic night of drinking this bourbon alongside one of its biggest fans, Keith Richards.) The brand was sold in 1992, effectively removing the glow of Stitzel-Weller association and dooming the product to an ankle-level liquor store existence.
In an effort to recapture some of the credibility associated with the brand’s history, current Rebel Yell owners Luxco, Inc. have released a 10-year aged, single barrel expression of the modern recipe in to the national market. As we reported back in September, the newest take on Rebel Yell shows nearly a tripling in price from the more common omnipresent standard bottling. A prominent selling point, according to the manufacturer, is the variety of experiences drinkers will have based on the variety of single barrels used and their particular warehousing and storage conditions. According to Luxco’s press release on this product, “by bottling each barrel individually, there will be no two barrels alike.”
So one wonders the fairness and accuracy of reviewing a product that could most likely be very different from the one our readers will find on the shelf. Fletcher Buchman, brand manager at Luxco, stated that various barrels should have varying levels of vanilla, caramel, oak, wood, floral and/or tobacco notes. That’s a good starting point, and I’ll do my best to explain to you what’s in store when you locate your very own 750ml slice of barrel number 4744359.
Tasting Notes: Rebel Yell Single Barrel 10 Years Old
Vital Stats: 100 proof. Barrel #4744359. Grains: wheat, corn, malt. Aged since 9/2005. $50 for a 750ml.
Appearance: The whiskey pours with a brilliant deep orange-meets-amber glow, reminiscent of pumpkin or persimmon skin. Resilient, slow-moving legs hang tightly to the glass interior. The edges show a pronounced cohesiveness in coloration.
Nose: From a foot away, there are grabby wafts of fresh-baked sugar cookies emanating from the glass. As the nose nears the bulb, heaps of orange marmalade support the comfortable, sweet, aromatic profile possessed by this bourbon. There is a pillowy softness present despite the intensity, as the overall impression left is void of the sharper notes of peppery overoaking or stinging alcohol heat.
Palate: At 100 proof, the burn was bound to be there, and it’s the first observation as this Rebel Yell 10 hits the palate. Once my taste buds adjust, the aromatic compounds begin to wrap around the heat to provide a well-balanced experience. The orange-like citrus flavor is present as promised, but finishes more rind-y and pithy, allowing a bitterness to compliment the bouquet of fruit present.
A dusting of wood shavings also provides evenness, and a lingering finish full of rich, toasty toffee and a perfumed tangy note of cedar wood allows for post-quaff pontification. One criticism here is a perceived thinness, a body that allows musty, sharp wood to dominate in the finish and is quite unexpected in a typically-more-luxurious-on-the-palate wheated bourbon.
Final Thoughts & Score/Buy A Bottle:
As a bourbon drinker familiar with Rebel Yell, I can certainly confirm that additional aging and cherry barrel selection has lent a complexity to an otherwise solid yet thoughtlessly mixable brand. The real question is: Would you pay almost three times as much for the premium version?
Holding this comparison up to, say, Evan Williams Black vs. Single Barrel, I’m not as impressed by the ultimate expression presented by Luxco here. Die hard fans of Rebel Yell, however, may find the next rung on the ladder to bourbon enlightenment through this new release.