Rebel Yell (40% ABV)

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.

Read the review at Sour Mash Manifesto

Read the review at Sku’s Recent Eats

At a glance:

Rebel Yell 40% ABV
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. 
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. 
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.
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. 

16 thoughts on “Rebel Yell (40% ABV)”

  1. Levon Helm would Rag, Mama, Rag on this bourbon.

    When Levon Helm drinks, the bourbon is 100 proof, not this weak stuff.

    Levon Helm thinks this is more a Rebel stand than a Rebel Yell.

  2. Well, we’ve heard a lot about “collaboration” beers, but this
    collaborative post is a great idea. Perhaps you do it a few times a
    year? And, as I commented at the Manifesto in response to Jason’s
    previous S-W post a while back:

    “In 1979 I discovered Rebel Yell. It was a watershed moment in my
    whiskey drinking voyage. We couldn’t get it in PA, as it was only
    distributed south of the Mason-Dixon Line, so anytime anyone we knew
    went south, they were asked to import some. (My go-to at the time was
    Michter’s…REAL Michter’s)

    “It wasn’t until years later that I finally understood why that
    whiskey was so great. It was a 90 proofer then, and I haven’t been able
    to bring myself to taste the current 80 proof version. I know damn well
    I’d be disappointed.”

    I strand by my almost psychic (psycho?) ability to predict the
    future! I agree with Bmac about the Rebel Reserve, too. I’ve had it,
    and at 90 proof it convinced me never to buy a Rebel Yell. A sad
    legacy for a once-legendary whiskey.

    1. That’s a shame – I’d been curious how the Reserve stacked up against the, er, “real deal”. I figured it might be what’s missing, but it doesn’t seem like it. Oh well – there’s always other bourbons. Maybe I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for the unlikely appearance of a dusty next time I go back east.

  3. I have to say that this product should be called: “Insurgent Squeak.”  I rolled the dice and bought their premium attempt called ‘Rebel Reserve.’  It is better than standard “Yell” but isn’t worth the price of admission.  In fact, the only use I have found for it is a base whiskey for blending, cocktails or as a ‘digestivo’ after a heavy meal.

    I think the issue is age.  If they would just age it longer it could be a truly great bourbon (as is the case with practically all wheated bourbons).  Form a logistics side it should have been easy to do.  Let’s say you make 30,000 barrels a year.  take 500 of those barrels and mark them for longer aging (say 10, 12, 15 or more years.)  I should think by now they would have an ultra-premium aged product for special edition release.  However, since this is likely Heaven Hill product…they probably have a gazillion barrels of wheated bourbon offerings they could give us (and have in Parker’s Heritage Collection).

    In the end, Rebel Yell is a perfect example of what NOT to do with a wheater.  It’s amazing that here in Texas, Rebel Yell is everywhere but Old Fitzgerald is practically extinct.

    1. That’s interesting – as I was preparing this I saw the reserve and thought, “surely that would be better than the standard bottling”. Two votes against it though – a shame. 

      The biggest problem to me, though age is probably one, is that there’s just virtually no oak influence. It’s just… dead. Even Beam gets more wood in four years. You have to figure Evan Williams is probably closer to 4 than it is to 7 these days since they dropped the age statement, and it’s way, way better than RY. I’d like to say that an older Rebel Yell might interest me, but given that Reserve is no better and how uninspired the baseline offering is… I doubt it. 

      You’re definitely right though – it’s one of the most boring wheaters I’ve ever had in my life. 

      1. Would the extra age offer a more influential oak presence?  My understanding (I say that loosely, because I probably read it on the internet somewhere) on wheaters is that not only does it affect the flavor, but it doesn’t penetrate oak as aggressively as rye.  This is why wheaters have to be slow aged.

        It might also be interesting to know what level of char “Mutineer Mute” uses for their bourbon.  I bet it’s barely level #3.

        1. I’m sure it would add more – one need only look at how some older bourbons can become horrendously bitter with age and poor casks. However, whatever they’re using for RY just gives NOTHING in 4 years. It really resembles a light and young scotch to me. The wheater factor is worth noting. May be worth hunting down some youngish wheaters for comparison. 

          I agree on the char level. I was figuring it was 0.05 – it just feels like they’re trying to cut costs and corners and the spirit is so much worse for it. 

          1. Maker’s Mark is the next youngest (approximately 6 years max).  they use heavy char and rotate barrels from upper to lower floors.  It has no finish but is at least a flavorful wheater.

            Do you know if the current production of Cabin Still is still wheat?  If so, that’s a 3 year wheater.

          2. Yeah, Maker’s is miles better than this. I’m not a huge fan of MM (yeah, yeah) but the last few times I’ve had it, it just kind of left me hanging. 

            All I could find in some googling says Cabin Still is a Heaven Hill wheater still. Hmm, that’s ridiculously cheap and reasonably easy to find… 

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