I was briefly delayed from continuing the Jack Daniel’s sequence with a cold that fired up after the review of the standard offering. The server moves that prompted this vertical run have been going well and are over halfway complete; things are generally coming together. Soon it’ll be time to move from “the hard stuff” to “the good stuff”. Maybe today’s the day?
After a ho-hum Green Label and the black labeled Old #7, I was curious about Single Barrel. The first thing I noticed was that it was barreled at a higher proof – interesting though not entirely an indicator of quality. I’ve had plenty of bogus high-ABV whiskies. I was also curious which Jack would emerge – the earthy, woody and vegetal green label, or #7′s top-note heavy profile. Being a single barrel product, there’s always going to be some variance and it’s entirely possible that some barrels are drastically better than others. Whatever the case, this is a pretty pure experience and hopefully a good indicator of what Jack can be before blending and dilution.
I’m no stranger to single-barrel offerings and know that’s part of the fun of the game. So what is this Jack?
The nose presented itself initially with the familiar corn note and then some grains that weren’t present in the other expressions. The familiar caramel and toffee from #7 showed up, but then the differences began: a little malt (dry malt, e.g. malt powder, versus a sweet beery malt) was faintly evident as well as some vanilla. Well, an interesting enough nose.
The palate was light initially – unsurprising, this is Jack’s thing. Slightly warm initially, no doubt to the higher ABV, with some earthy claylike notes as well as some vanilla. Caramel and toffee showed up shortly thereafter, as did a bit of the elusive marshmallow note I catch on some bourbon. Corn and grain show up later, as do some moderate but definitely not overpowering wood notes. It’s lightly tannic; there’s a definite note of black tea late in the palate.
The finish continues with some black tea and tannins which gives way momentarily to faint cherry notes. The earthiness and marshmallow notes are faintly present, which fades to corn. It slowly dries to the woody notes, and then dries further to a root vegetable sort of bitterness. The finish is nicely lasting.
I can’t lie: this whiskey surprised me. I was expecting a slightly tarted up version of black label and I got absolutely everything I’ve been missing in Jack so far – very close to what I’d imagine a mixing of green label (sans the youth) and the black label to be. I was pretty much ready to write off Jack, but this is far and away the best whiskey I’ve tasted with the Jack Daniel’s name on it. It’s really close to my preferred bourbon profile, just needing a bit more push and a slight dialing down on the sweetness to be a real star in my mind. However, my profile isn’t for everyone and this might be perfect for a lot of people. Honestly, this bottle is what Jack should aspire to as the general profile for Jack Daniel’s – I know I’d buy it if it were.
That said, it’s a single barrel and as much as I liked this, it must mean there are barrels out there that are average to downright crummy. Don’t say you weren’t warned if you buy one and it tastes like Grandma’s perfume and rosewater.
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel (Rick L-4, Barrel 11-5368, Bottled 10-19-11) – 47% ABV
Nose: Corn and a fair amount of grains as well as a fairly strong wood influence. Caramel, toffee, and just the faintest hint of maltiness (more like dry malt than a sweet beer malt). A touch of vanilla on the top end.
Palate: Light mouthfeel, initially somewhat warm, with a bit of an earthy note and some vanilla, some caramel and toffee, a faint marshmallow kind of note. Heat builds slowly. A little bit of corn and grain later. Some moderate but not hugely substantial wood notes. Lightly tannic; a definite black tea note.
Finish: Initially leads with a bit of black tea and tannins. Some faint cherry notes, the earthy and marshmallow notes faintly present early, fading to corn and then drying further to wood. Over time it dries even more and there’s a slight root vegetable note.
Comment: I can’t lie. This is pretty good. Has all of the balance I’ve missed in Jack. However, as a single barrel, who’s to say what the next barrel is like?
The quick run through the Jack Daniel’s expressions continues today with one of, if not the best selling whisky in the world right now: Jack Daniel’s.
It’s hard to even know where to begin. Jack is so iconic, so huge in stature, and in many ways part of the American cultural landscape that it’s almost unassailable. In many ways, it’s as American as apple pie and baseball (or Coca-Cola and McDonald’s if you want to keep it in the food realm). Even people who aren’t hopeless whiskey nerds like myself may have a bottle of Jack as a part of their bar stock.
Jack is at once wholesome and rebellious. I’ve seen a bottle of Jack at home when I go to visit. It’s a staple of college tailgates. It’s also practically the corporate sponsor of the Sunset Strip – take a drive down and you’ll see the banners every 500 feet as you pass the Viper Room, the Key Club and the Roxy, all fixtures of the Sunset Strip scene. Jack Daniel’s is the both backyard barbecue and the abyss-skirting oblivion courted by countless rock stars throughout history.
LIke any good zillion-seller, Jack is cross-marketed to the Nth degree. T-shirts bear the label design; playing cards have a Jack Daniel’s brand on them; steak and barbecue sauces bear the name. Bobby Flay works Jack into his recipes. It’s ubiquitous and nothing less.
The question is, does this zillion-seller suffer from the inevitable decline of corporate profit interest, or is it built on something real? Is Keith Richards or a benevolent fraternity alum making sure the under-21s get a little taste of something they can’t buy on their own at a football game?
The only way is to pour some in a glass and find out what we can.
The nose has some moderate wood influence up front – aged out to a more normal level where the wood does not have a young or intensely green character to it. There’s a faintly piney note to it, mingled with toffee and caramel but somewhat obscured with a slightly spirity top note.
The palate is quite light but tending ever so slightly toward a syrupy character. It’s got extremely mild wood influence evident. It brings along caramel and vanilla and a touch of corn sweetness. The finish is rather quick as well – slightly warming, with some vanilla and a touch of caramel holding on. After a while you get a slightly tart apple note lingering at the top.
Overall, it’s not bad. For my taste, it feels like it needs something to anchor it – perhaps the earthy notes of Green Label in moderation would anchor it? It’s likely some of that body is lost through the charcoal filtration that is part of the storied Lincoln County Process, and it’s a shame. The top end of this has a lot going on that’s quite interesting.
It’s surprising how light it is though – for a whiskey that is more Harley than Honda, it’s actually rather soft. If there was a little more heft to it this could be safely into B-range, but as it is, it’s just a bit lopsidedly light. It ends up being more … And Justice For All than Master of Puppets.
It feels cliched to bag on top-sellers — I had no problem saying Johnnie Walker Blue was overrated; yet somehow it feels like a cheap shot to say that Jack just doesn’t do it for me. It’s such an ever-present, fully pervasive part of society that anything less than rote praise or highly equivocating criticism feels like you’re being ungrateful and knocking your heritage.
The fact is, I like the idea of Jack Daniel’s – rock music, rebellion, and yet paradoxically family and friends – more than I do the actual product. I don’t recall ever being crazy about Jack, but I’ve never disliked it. I’ll never turn my back on it and I’ll probably have some on hand because it’s a can’t-fail whiskey to have for mixing or drinking. Ultimately I think it’s because Jack has been part of some of my favorite events, even if it was not particularly amazing on its own. I guess there’s something to be said for being the social lubricant for a thousand informal get-togethers, parties, decompression sessions, post-work complain-a-thons, tailgates and so on. As for the whiskey, it can be mixed, it can be drunk straight, it can be used for baking and for cooking. Taste-wise, unfortunately, it’s a jack of all trades and a master of none.
At a glance:
Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 (Black Label) 40% ABV
N: Some corn sweetness and moderate wood influence. Very faintly piney. Faint top notes of toffee and caramel but somewhat spirity for the ABV.
P: Light but slightly syrupy mouthfeel initially. Some mild wood notes to it. Caramel, vanilla, a trace of corn sweetness.
F: Quite fast but slightly warming. Vanilla hangs around with a bit of caramel, a touch of fruit like apples late in the finish.
Comment: It always surprises me how light Jack is. There’s some nice stuff happening on the top end but there’s not a lot to anchor it. If there was just a little more this would slide up just a bit, but it’s just a little shy of being into the B range for me. Again, not bad, totally drinkable, a fine mixer and very versatile. But a jack of all trades is a master of none…
The run through the Jack Daniel’s expressions will continue in a few more days!
Over the last week or so, I’ve been fighting some underperforming servers for my various sites. Scotch & Ice Cream was unfortunately one of the slower-performing sites of the batch. This led to the unfortunate conclusion that a move off the old server was inevitable.
Server moves are my absolute least favorite thing in the world. They’re not difficult, but there’s a ton of t’s to cross, i’s to dot (don’t forget the lowercase j gotcha cases as well), and the inevitable differences that spring up between environments requiring some additional manual tweaks.
Early signs are that things are running better (for now), so hopefully this is the last I write about it while I screw around with fine-tuning performance. However, this is as I noted, my least favorite thing to do in the world, and I recalled some of those startup evenings where people would realize a ton of work lay ahead of them and they would say they needed a drink. “Beer?” would be the inevitable response.
“No,” would come the reply, “it’s time to break out the hard stuff.”
For some reason, Jack Daniel’s has been one of those whiskeys that is synonymous with “the hard stuff” – likely a byproduct of their marketing. It’s a bit ironic; Jack is now bottled at a sad 40% ABV and doesn’t have as much to justify its image as the Hell’s Angel of American whiskey.
But that’s neither here nor there. This seems like a good opportunity over the next few days to review some of the expressions of Jack Daniel’s. Today we’re starting out with the Green Label offering. The Jack Daniel’s site says Green label is “a lighter, less mature whiskey with a lighter color and character.” The barrels are from a portion of the warehouse that is more central and thus, we must assume, more temperature stable – they say the whiskey matures slower here.
The nose on Green Label is pretty light and straightforward – it’s got some lightly woody notes and some corn sweetness. At the edges of it, there are toffee and molasses notes. The molasses is pretty light. On the palate, it’s initially light but develops a bit more body. It’s a pretty sweet whiskey but not syrupy or stuck in caramel hell – just a good, clean sweet corn flavor. Honestly, it reminds me of sweet corn from the late summer more than any other whiskey I’ve had. The toffee and molasses are present; there’s a slightly sour and slightly earthy funk on the palate that gives it a bit of dimension. It finishes quickly with wood, more sweetness and a touch of the earthy molasses note.
Truthfully, the earthiness on this makes it stand out from a host of inexpensive bourbons. I keep coming back to molasses because it has that rich, almost savory character but there’s a bit of a vegetal kick to it. It also has moments where it’s not dissimilar to Marmite. However, this is a counterpoint and not a main stage note, so it’s at the edges. It definitely adds a degree of dimension to this inexpensive whiskey. It’s got a mark of younger wood and younger whiskey, no question about it, but it’s not bad at all. This would be a totally fine mixer, it’s inoffensive on its own and that’s not bad at all. There’s nothing here that makes this a must-try, but I wouldn’t send this back or opt for beer if it was all that was available (which I can’t say of Rebel Yell).
At a glance:
Jack Daniel’s Green Label, 40% ABV
Nose: Lightly woody, with some corn sweetness. Some toffee and a faint note of molasses.
Palate: Light on the palate, initially sweet with some wood to it. It again has that toffee and molasses note to it but there’s a slightly sour and earthy undertone to it.
Finish: Very fleeting. Sweetness, wood, and a bit of molasses.
Comment: The earthiness in conjunction with the wood makes this stand out from the crowd of inexpensive whiskeys. It’s young wood and a young whiskey – make no mistake – but it’s not bad at all. It’d be great to mix, it’s inoffensive on its own, and that’s not bad. It doesn’t have anything to vault it into the “worth trying” arena for me, but it’s not something to avoid (like Rebel Yell).
I’ve written about independent bottlers before, and they remain one of the best ways to try whisky that is either never released to the public, or to taste the whiskies produced by now-silent distilleries. They are also a great way to try the stranger whiskies that came out of the “distilleries within distilleries” of a few decades ago. The only ways that really are better or more cost effective are to have extremely wealthy friends, a time machine, or a loose moral code surrounding the ins and outs personal property.
For those not familiar with the “distilleries within distilleries”, there were a few distilleries that set up additional equipment to produce different styles of whisky a few decades ago. The Girvan grain distillery produced malt whisky from ’68 to ’75 and it was labeled as Ladyburn. (K&L had an exclusive Ladyburn cask released last year; it’s long gone.) Miltonduff and Glenburgie added Lomond stills and their output was labeled as Mosstowie (’64-’81) and Glencraig (’58-’81). Currently, two distilleries have Lomond stills – Scapa (though it’s been heavily altered) and Bruichladdich (who used it to produce the Botanist gin). One of the most thorough discussions on Lomond stills and what they are can be found at Celtic Malts, which I will make no attempt to duplicate here.
The first Glencraig I’m going to review is one of the Rarest of the Rare releases from Duncan Taylor, which is the series of releases that features closed, lost, or otherwise non-functioning distilleries – such as Glencraig, Glenugie, Banff, etc. I have only had a couple whiskies from this collection and they have all been good; two of the three are rather similar and towards the lower ABV and were of a slightly gently malty, lightly vanilla character. The K&L Banff is another one of these and it’s anything but gentle and malty. It’s an indie that I have no problem buying from.
This Glencraig definitely fits the gentle and malty character – a nice, easygoing malt that works in the heat of summer (as it was when I first tried it) or in the winter as a lighter whisky. The nose is light, fruity and gently malty with subtle buttercream vanilla. There’s a slightly piney and lightly solvent note, which kind of slides over to shiso after a minute. There’s a light dusting of white pepper as well.
The palate is moderately heavy, malty and gentle all around. As from the nose, you get some light vanilla, moderate heat brought by the pepper notes, and mint and shiso notes. The whisky finishes quite quickly and is mostly malt and gentle spice, with a tail end of light mint.
This one is just a simple, easy-drinking, enjoyable whisky. It’s hard not to like. While it doesn’t score particularly high on my scale, it’s still very enjoyable and worthwhile. To me, this is one of those whiskies that proves that a B is still a really good whisky – it’s not one of those ones that causes you to go catatonic and fall back into the carpet a la the Trainspotting heroin overdose scene, but it’s still totally enjoyable.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have a 15y Glencraig, bottled by the SMWS in 1994. Distilled in ’79, this is SMWS 104.2 (sorry, I don’t have a society name for it). This is an entirely different beast: 61.5% ABV, but the nose doesn’t have that high-proof prickle. It’s got a nice, slightly earthy malt with a liberal dusting of white pepper. Shiso and mint figure slightly in the high notes, along with some slightly overripe fruits. A light oiliness balances the fruitiness.
The palate is great – it’s warm, rich and tart at the outset, with oily and earthy notes coming up strong and going tarry after a minute. Against this is a maltiness which shows a quick flash of apple skin, but then returns to the more industrial, tarry notes. There’s some light pepper character to it throughout. The finish is equally big – peppery with cinnamon; malty and grainy, which fade to red delicious apples for a second. The whole thing is held together by the tarry notes.
Whereas the 30y Glencraig is gentle and shows some age and experience, the teenager is brash, bold, and powerful. Honestly, I would have guessed the younger one to be an early 80s Brora or perhaps a Springbank at first impression. It’s a real powerhouse whiskey and one that has caused Glencraig to command my attention now. While it’s unlikely you’ll see 104.2 outside of auctions at this point, it’s definitely highly recommended. Definitely much closer to a Trainspotting moment.
At a glance:
Glencraig 30y – Duncan Taylor Rarest of the Rare, distilled 3-1974, bottled 10-2004, cask 2926, bottle 319 of 341. 40.1% ABV Nose: Light, fruity, gentle malt, subtle buttercream vanilla note, hint of pine & low solvent. A touch of shiso and pepper. Palate: Moderate mouthfeel, malty, gentle. Light vanilla, moderate heat, slight pepper, small bits of mint and shiso. Finish: Relatively quick, malty. Gentle spice. Lightly minty. Comment: Reminiscent of the Cask 3414 of the Banff Rarest from Duncan Taylor (31y, distilled 11-74) – gentle & maltly. Pleasant. Rating: B
Glencraig 15y – SMWS 104.2 – distilled 1979, bottled 1994. 61.5% ABV
Nose: A nice, slightly earthy presence of malt with a fair amount of white pepper and some shiso on the nose. A bit of vanilla presence and some ever so slightly overripe fruits, balanced ever so slightly by very light oiliness.
Palate: Warm, rich and tart immediately on the palate, with the oily and earthy notes coming up strong with a slightly tarry note. It’s balanced by a maltiness which segues quickly into a bit of apple skin and then returns to the more industrial notes. Light pepper present throughout.
Finish: Big and powerful, peppery with a bit of cinnamon as well; malty and grainy notes lead and then fade slightly into red delicious apples. The tarry notes provide the bed it all rests on.
Comment: This is massive and very well put together. The finish lasts and lasts and gets everything in just the right proportions.
Rating: A- Sincere thanks to Chris for the 104.2 Glencraig. Phenomenal.
Sooner or later as a whisky aficionado, you’ll encounter these strange green bottles with numbers and weird names – e.g. “17.29: Handbags And Popcorn”. You’ll eventually find out who bottles these: The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.
The SMWS (and since I am in the US, I will be referring to the American branch, conveniently SMWSA) is an independent bottler that sells only to current members of the SMWS. Its bottles are single-cask releases, which means the supply is limited to a couple hundred bottles of any one expression. Additionally, they don’t filter or color their whiskies, so you’re getting the ultimate whisky-geek experience – an undiluted single-cask bottle.
What makes the SMWS unlike other bottlers, beyond the members-only policy, is the removal of all distillery names from packaging. Unless you’ve got a reference guide, past experience, or know your distillery trivia, you don’t know what distillery produced the whisky in your bottle. To use the above example, “Handbags and Popcorn”, the identifier is 17.29. That means it’s the 29th cask bottled from distillery 17. What’s distillery 17? Well, all we know is that it’s “Orkney’s lesser known distillery.”
Normal people would then refer to a guide to find out what distillery it’s from, which may influence their purchasing decision. Since I just finished reading a super whisky nerd book, I will save you the time and tell you that Handbags and Popcorn comes from Scapa distillery.
However, that takes some of the fun out of it. I think the truest reactions come from blind tastings and that remains one of the more fun ways to experience whisky – free from any sort of impression other than the drink itself. Short of being part of a whisky club which may conduct them (or having a willing but long-suffering family member aid you in the depths of your obsession), the SMWS provides one of the easiest ways to indulge in blind tasting, if you dare.
I’ll back up a second. I joined the SMWSA recently after seeing a string of fairly well-reviewed and generally interesting bottles. It’d been on my list for a while as something to try so I thought there was no better time than the present. Joining is a snap and takes only a few minutes online.
After a few days you’ll get your membership kit in two parts. First, you get a general info packet – your membership card (mostly useless to those in the US unless you want to tuck it in next to your expired Blockbuster Video card and your wallet-size fraternity membership certificate laminate and prove yourself a mega-nerd), a copy of the society magazine, and a few recent Outturn pamphlets. These pamphlets list the latest casks bottled that the Society has for sale, and publishes their tasting notes. Society tasting notes have a style all their own and it may be hard to develop a picture of the whisky described until your palate has matured a bit. It’s all packaged in a small folder.
The second package is the more fun one – four 100mL Society bottlings, a membership handbook (OK, maybe less exciting), a blank tasting notes book that also is a combination miniature bible and Russian phrasebook, and a lapel pin. God knows my lapels were shamefully unadorned prior to this – and who doesn’t enjoy that important feeling of belonging that only a lapel pin can offer?
But remember: this package has whisky. No lapel pin can bring that down.
My four samples were:
5.31 “Morning Has Broken”
76.82 “Gunpowder Green and Lava Rock”
29.99 “Power and Scorched Earth”
77.25 “Mouth Numbing Handbags”
The notes for these four will be posted at the end of this entry. I’d heard that Society bottlings could be variable, so this was my first litmus test. I was impressed that even the 23 year old bottle was still in the high 50% ABV territory. My impression (full notes below) was that these were all good bottles – one was aB+ (5.31, which I really liked a lot); the rest were all Bs.
I’ve since purchased a couple bottles which you will see reviewed here in the months ahead. As for now, I’m pretty impressed by the society’s offerings. The blind element lets you browse and buy what tickles your fancy based on descriptions, rather than determining which whisky is packaged in the most seaworthy container. My plan is to buy without knowledge of the distillery and not find out until after I’ve completed my tasting notes (as I did with this batch.)
SMWS 5.31 “Morning Has Broken” 11y 57% ABV
Nose: Fairly spirity; unsurprising at 57%. Nice, solid malty and cereal notes underpinning lighter notes that are slightly lemony and floral notes. Young fruit – a pear, maybe a granny smith apple in there too. Lightly honeyed. A bit of a sugary note that smells like sugar cookies or sugar icing.
Palate: Very strong malt presence that also has some cereal and bread with it. Ripe pears, golden delicious apples (and a whisper of Fuji apple), honey, lightly lemony. Nice heat on the palate, warming to a reasonable point but not overwhelming.
Finish: The malty note goes much more towards baked biscuits. The apple notes drop down in favor of pears; slightly honey and lemon notes continue. The heat subsides quickly and after a short while, golden delicious apples come up a bit again. Light wood influence at this point. A bit of cinnamon on the finish.
Comment: This has such a nice, full, rich body of malty notes that really ground it. The estery top is held completely in balance and while it’s warm it’s not overpowering. A great mix of malt and fruit.
SMWS 76.82 “Gunpowder Green and Lava Rock” 15y 56.7% ABV
Nose: Medium malty notes; a bit of green tea and some white wine. Very light white pepper, some hay and some honey. Water opens the nose up a bit but doesn’t bring much more.
Palate: Sweet initially and with a good malty presence; just a quick hint of toffee up front. Quite warm on the palate with pepper and cinnamon. A bit of hay and some damp cut grass. Wood and a slightly musty scent of old books. Rich and full mouthfeel. Strong texture – chewy. Extremely light fruit – a bit of apple; a bit of pear. Light oak influence throughout.
Finish: Pepper carries into the finish, with honey and grain beneath it. A little of the mustiness from the palate, some malt as well, and the oak continues. A hint of mint on the very far end of the finish accompanied by paraffin.
Comment: This is a pretty enjoyable, big, bold malt. Really full-bodied texture. The heat is strong but totally manageable. That said, there’s nothing very distinctive about this that would make me want to own a full bottle – it’s somewhat anonymous. Ultimately though, there’s nothing here keeping me away from future Mortlachs.
SMWS 29.99 “Power and Scorched Earth” 20y 59.6% ABV Nose: Strong sherry influence initially, with a bit of toffee behind it, absolutely dominating a faint wisp of peatiness. Very slight medicinal notes, a hint of band-aids. A suggestion of lemon and honey, a touch of white pepper and the faint scent of biscuits baking. Faintly ashy. Palate: Quite massive sherry note to this one, very syrupy mouthfeel. Heat builds slowly. Lightly medicinal and slightly rubbery. A little waxy fruit note early on. A little toffee and some extremely, extremely faint malt. Slightly raisiny. Finish: Plenty of heat, drying slightly but still showing a very strong sherry influence. Slightly rubbery; slightly medicinal. Medium waxy apple skins emerge on the finish and a small bit of smoke. Extremely long lasting finish with a strong sherry texture to it. Comment: I could hardly fathom Laphroaig being overpowered, but here it is. This malt is good enough, but the sherry is so ridiculously overpowering that it’s just over the line into unbalanced. Rating: B Distillery: Laphroaig
SMWS 77.25 “Mouth Numbing Handbags” 23y 57.2% ABV Nose: Nice, a little spirity at first but it’s also slightly floral – almost like a rye at first versus the usual more-flowery floral notes you get in many Scotch whiskies. Substantial white pepper, a bit of toffee. Lightly leathery, slightly grassy. The rye notes fade down after a couple minutes and vanilla comes up. Palate: Malty upfront, with nice white pepper. A bit leathery again but not overpowering. Slightly salty, reasonable wood influence. A bit of hay, slightly musty. A little apple tart note – nice integration of the fruit and grain notes. Some pear along there with it, but again more as a tart. Finish: The apple and pear notes come to the fore immediately with malt and slightly old, dusty wood behind them that’s never bitter. Sits nicely on the tongue. A bit hot – cinnamon instead of white pepper. Comment: Unusually bourbon-influenced nose, but really nice all the way through. Good mix of elements. Rating: B Distillery: Glen Ord
A couple weeks back, Jason of Sour Mash Manifesto, Sku of Recent Eats and I had a discussion on Twitter about Rebel Yell – one we’d all considered buying strictly for the purposes of blogging about. (That surely an placed us all in undocumented subtype of Sku’s Field Guide to Whiskey Collectors) This shared realization led us to one simple conclusion: we should all buy some Rebel Yell and then blog about it. Yep, pretty outrageous and edgy stuff. In fact, this is a coordinated Rebel Yell blog post – you can read Jason’s review of Rebel Yell and Sku’s review as well on their sites.
So, what of Rebel Yell? I’m sure you’ve seen it on the shelf and it’s one of those also-ran whiskies you always pass on, like Ten High and Kessler. Is Rebel Yell the great undiscovered value whiskey gem? Is it the spirit of a Confederate battle cry somehow embodied in a whiskey (warning: loud and weird)? It’s not a nod to Billy Idol, however: Idol credits the name of his song to a meeting with the Rolling Stones where they drank this bourbon, according to Wikipedia.
Rebel Yell is a wheated bourbon and the Rebel Yell site makes efforts to attach itself to the Weller name, though it’s not part of the Buffalo Trace stable. The label says it’s a straight bourbon but provides no age statement, so we know it’s at least four years old and meets the requirements to be called a bourbon (new charred oak casks; has had at least one bar patron speak about it and then go on to claim that “all bourbons must be distilled in Bourbon county”; has caused no less than ten college freshman to swear off the stuff, etc).
So what’s it like? To be completely honest, not much. And that’s not in the way that Levon Helm is not like many others. The nose is unremarkable with some light alcoholic, solventy and spirity notes. There’s a slightly dry and faint grainy note, paired with a little white pepper. There’s also a strange fruity note that shows up as a little bit of pear. Beyond that, it’s a little bit musty. From the nose, I’d almost expect this to be a young Glenfiddich aged in a tired, fifteenth-refill bourbon cask.
The palate has the light sugary notes – somewhere between raw sugar and table sugar. It’s not quite like the really aggressive sugar notes you get off of some Beam products or the Buffalo Trace white dogs, but it again suggests that Rebel Yell doesn’t have a lot of cask influence. There’s a little slight sourness, and a bit of dry wood – but it also has hints of napkins and popsicle sticks, kind of a raw, papery, fibrous wood influence. There’s also a hint of pepper. This really doesn’t seem to show a lot of cask influence. I can only assume that they have a crack team that stands ready to drain a cask the very nanosecond it turns four years old, with a warehouse foreman screaming at the top of his lungs, “WE’RE LOSING MONEY EVERY SECOND THAT WHISKEY IS IN A CASK! GET IT OUT!”
The finish, as is utterly unsurprising with something so new-makey, is relatively quick and sweet. The sugar from the palate is there, but it leans toward canned fruit as well – a touch of peaches and pears.
All things considered, it’s pretty bizarre in my opinion when you consider this is a bourbon. Even Beam, which I clearly don’t have a lot of love for, has more wood influence (it’s just unable to overcome the sweetness of the spirit). This is just light, light, light, with strangely fruity notes that almost take it in a light Scotch direction. Despite the uniqueness – which I can’t lie, unique is a selling point for me – there’s just nothing at all here for me to really care about. There’s nothing to hate, there’s nothing to love. In the end, Rebel Yell, unlike its Confederate battle cry namesake or the undeniably catchy Billy Idol tune, is just forgettable and boring. That’s about the worst thing I can think of to say of about any whiskey.
Rebel Yell 40% ABV
Nose: Mostly alcoholic and with hints of solvent or spirit. Slightly dry notes of faint grain. A bit of white pepper, a bit of white wine – very faint. Somewhat musty. Faint fruit notes, primarily pear, emerge after a bit of time.
Palate: Slightly sugary like raw sugar, but not overt like Beam. A bit of table sugar. Slight sourness, a bit of dry wood. Slight papery, fibrous notes – unbleached napkins or popsicle sticks. A bit of pepper but not much.
Finish: Quick, a bit of sweetness. The slight raw sugar notes persist, but also go slightly fruity – a bit of canned peach and a bit of pear.
Comment: This is one of those whiskeys that shows a reasonably strong new make character. It’s quite light and doesn’t have a lot of presence on the palate or a lot of character overall. It’s odd to get these light fruity notes that I’d almost associate with a Glenfiddich. Not much to really care about here.