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Review: Rebel Yell Bourbon

There are a number of whiskey sites and blogs that I frequent on a consistent basis. Two that I enjoy are Steve Ury’s (he goes by Sku) Recent Eats and Tim Read’s Scotch & Ice Cream. Both of these guys are entertaining writers and good people to boot. If you are a whiskey geek you will be right at home at their sites. If you are a novice or interested in learning more about whiskey – there’s no shortage of knowledge either. Check them out on a regular basis, but particularly today, for reason’s I am about to explain.

With the ass kissing out of the way, let me give some background on how this review came about…….

A few weeks ago Sku posted a piece on Whiskey Collectors. He went so far as to categorize the various types of collectors with a “which of these categories fits you best” field guid. While almost dead on, I noticed I didn’t fit into any of Sku’s categories. I sent at Tweet informing him of the same, and he responded (jokingly) that he forgot the “Blogger that spends too much money on whiskey to blog about it” category. Sku can sympathize with this behavior as well. He recounted a recent moment of weakness where he almost bought a bottle of Rebel Yell just to write a post, before finally thinking better of it (“what was I going to do with the rest of it?!?!”).

I thought we were moving on, but Tim (who had seen these Tweets go back and forth) seized the opportunity to propose a simultaneous review of Rebel Yell on each of our sites. The only stipulation was no Billy Idol references, which was harder than I thought it would be. Rebel Yell was also a fitting suggestion since I had intended to review more entry level and lower price point whiskeys over the months of February and March. What a way to get started.

I invite you to take a look at my review below, then please go check out Sku’s and Tim’s websites for their thoughts. If it turns out they don’t agree with me, just remember they are wrong. Cheers!

Rebel Yell Bourbon, 40% abv (80 Proof), $13

Background: Rebel Yell is actually a pretty storied name from the standpoint that it was one Stitzel-Weller Distillery’s (S-W) primary brands (along with Old Fitzgerald, Cabin Still, and W.L. Weller). For more background on S-W, check out this post. After the S-W closed in the early nineties, these brands were all sold off to other distilleries and independent bottlers. Today, Rebel Yell is distilled, aged, and bottled by Heaven Hill (their Bernheim Distillery) for Luxco, a spirits company that owns Ezra Brooks Bourbon and a few other liquor and spirit brands. It’s a similar wheated recipe bourbon that was made popular by Stitzel-Weller.

Color: Medium Gold, like over-oaked chardonnay

Nose: Heavy sweet corn, corn oil, vanilla, and honey are the predominant notes. Candied orange, hints of dry corn husk and light hickory are also faint but present. NOTE: A healthy splash of water and time actually improves the nose a great deal, bringing out a whole lot more fruit (ripe pear and soft golden delicious apple) and lessening the crude corn assault.

Palate: Think corn whiskey rounded by the wheat. No surprise the sweet corn and vanilla are still the major flavors. Some sweeter, golden dried fruits (golden raisin, apple, and apricots) do their best (unsuccessfully) to lift the insipid whiskey. The influence of the wood is negligible, except for a light dryness/toastiness and bitterness most of the way through the sip.

Finish: 3-2-1……done. The faint flavors of ripe orchard fruits, sweet corn, and a kiss of honey are all that’s left. Some soapiness also.

Overall: What struck out to me the whole time I nosed and sipped this whiskey is the irony in the name. “Yankee Whisper” would be much more appropriate since there is little character or shape to this whiskey. Actually I take that back – I like yankees and mean no disrespect, but this whiskey is anything but a yell. It’s also lacking so much in the flavor department that it makes it hard to even call it “bad”. One thing is for sure – it’s just not worth your time in the least. The price point is low, but at half the price it still wouldn’t be worth it. There are so many other whiskeys (around this price) that offer more flavor, more character, and more value: Very Old Barton (80, 90, and 100 Bottled In Bond), George Dickel No. 8, Evan Williams Black Label, and Old Grand-Dad to name a few.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 6.8 (Decent – Palatable only)

Thanks to Sku and Tim for the suggestion. Drink your Bourbon!

-Jason

48 Comments

  1. Bmac says:

    You know, this review like many others rate this bourbon with equal lackluster. However, my obsession with wheaters made me over come the negativity and buy a bottle of their Rebel Reserve. Their aggressively priced premium version. I have to say that it wasn’t a complete loss, but it was going to win any race. It has a fantastic, smooth mouth feel…but no spicy, cinnamon, butteriness you get with a wheater. So, as with similar reviews out there….don’t buy their reserve either.:(

    I did find a practical use for the whiskey. It does make an excellent base whiskey for any blends or cocktails. ;)

  2. Wood Is Good says:

    I’d never waste my hard-earned greenbacks on Rebel Smell, but your post did two things for me: made me laugh, and directed me to Scotch & Ice Cream, which I had never gone to before. Looks like a mighty fine site!

  3. sam k says:

    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 that 90 proof version convinced me never to buy a Rebel Yell. A sad legacy for a once-legendary whiskey.

    P.S. I’m posting this response at all three sites. Thanks for the effort!

  4. Ryan says:

    Nice job, guys! If anyone goes out and buys Rebel Yell after this triple-threat smack-down, they have no one to blame but themselves ;-)

    Here’s a suggestion for the next time you do this: try something middle-of-the-road that we might see some differing opinions on between you guys. Not something that totally sucks, or something that everyone loves.

  5. Ryan, I do agree that would be more fun, but this was a bit of a first experiment. If it’s well received, and it seems to be, more will be done for sure.

    Sam – I think you nailed it as well. I recalled those comments as well as I wrote this post. It’s sad indeed that it’s crumbled like that.

    Wood Is Good and Bmac- thanks for the comments guys!

  6. Lazer says:

    And the winner of the best Rebel Yell post goes to Sourmashmanifesto.com, Jason Pile. Thank you to all of our contestants.

  7. Tim Read says:

    @Wood – thanks! I hope you enjoy it.

    @Ryan – Jason’s right – if we do another one in the future (I see no compelling reason not to), I’m all ears for suggestions. This was a very off-the-cuff kind of bit of fun that likely came after a few libations.

    @Lazer – as they say during awards season, “it’s an honor just to be among such distinguished company”. ;)

  8. Lazer – Thank you, but no winners or losers here. It was a fun way to see what each of us got from this Whiskey. Thanks for checking it out.

  9. sku says:

    Lots of fun! We should definitely do more.

    Ryan, ironicially enough, Jason and I rarely seem to see eye to eye, but I guess all three of us agree that bad is bad.

  10. Rich Ford says:

    Love this blog and I really appreciated the candid review of Rebel Yell.

    I gotta ask though – about your rating scale. You crushed this bourbon. You words like “soapiness” to describe its taste and said it is “lacking so much in the flavor department that it makes it hard to even call it ‘bad’.” And yet it rates a 6.8?

    May I ask what it would take to award a whiskey with a rating of, say, 4.0? How about a mixture of Murphy’s Oil Soap and rubbing alcohol – would that maybe qualify as a 3?

  11. DBMaster says:

    Bravo! I think Jason probably intends for this to be an occasional thing, at most. Making it a regular feature would lead one to ask, “Why not develop a single rating scale used by all reviewers?” To do so proceduralizes the activity a bit too much and sheds some of the “blogginess” inherent in this sort of very individual forum. I know Jason likes Dickel No. 12 a lot – so do I. It would be interesting to see what guys like Steve and Tim, who are also scotch aficionados, think of a whisky (note the spelling, scotch guys) that has a generous dose of corn on the nose and palate.

    Note to Steve and Tim: I am NOT knocking scotch whisky. My preference for American spirits developed as a result of economics, not quality. How many really good scotches can you get for $20-25 a bottle?

  12. Lazer says:

    Seriously, this is a great idea, kinda like the malt maniacs only less malty.

  13. sku says:

    DBMaster, actually, I’m a huge fan of Dickel 12. As for good Scotch in the $20-$25 range, there are a few, but just a handful.

  14. “Yankee Whisper” Nice:)

  15. Tim Read says:

    DBMaster – I’m no stranger to American whiskies – I count one as possibly my all-time favorite. In general I’m more interested by the American scene, in fact. (Though, through stunning oversight and omission I haven’t had Dickel in a notes-friendly setting yet… it’s on the list)

    You’re right though, good scotches sub-30 are hard to find. The cost of the category is another reason I’m an advocate for group buys.

  16. DBMaster – we three had a discussion today on our rating systems. Would be tough for all of us to sync up on that, but still – doesn’t road block us from doing this again. In fact we plan on it. Cheers!

  17. Rich, while I certainly was not a “fan” of this bourbon, I recommend everyone take a look at my scale. I call the range in which I rated this as decent-palatable. And Rebel Yell actually is. It’s certainly not bad – it’s just flatter than a pancake, and has zero distinction. Honestly I personally haven’t come across anything lower so I guess we’ll find out what a 3 or 4 tastes like when we get there. But hopefully I won’t.

  18. Tim Read says:

    Oh man, Jason. You need to avail yourself of one of the following:

    - Red Stag (this was stomach-turning). Original black cherry of course.
    - Woodford Reserve Sonoma-Cutrer. Grapey grape grapeness from Grape City.
    - A really heavily perfumed Bowmore. Circa ’85ish.
    - Steve’s really incredible Usuikyou (if he’s willing to sample out any, I know it’s a very closely held treasure and he rations himself very small 5ml pours on extremely special occasions)
    - A Loch Dhu, but that’s kind of boring-bad by comparison.

    These will really set the bottom end of your scale IMO.

  19. Andrew says:

    Jason, if you feel compelled to abuse yourself and try Jim Beam Red Stag you can probably pickup a 50ml bottle for around $1. At least the bottle might come in handy for some later use.

  20. Andrew and Tim, Thanks (I think!) for the list of stinkers. I may have to abuse myself soon.

  21. DBMaster says:

    Steve and Tim: I did not mean to suggest that you guys were biased in any way against American whiskey. I have been a whiskey fan since I could legally (almost) drink. My very first experience at an age that I won’t disclose was JD and Coke. I did find a single malt that I liked (past tense) a couple of years ago, Ardmore Traditional Cask. It costs $26.99 a bottle here in the DFW area. It seems, though, that it changed. It smells and tastes “younger” and the color is what Ralfy would call “permaglow.” It seems to have a lot of E150 in it these days. But, it is an interesting “fusion malt” that incorporates characteristics of Highland, Speyside, and Islay all in the same glass. I used to like Laphroaig A LOT ten years ago. The ten year old expression also seems to have a younger feel to it with a lot of obvious artificial color added. I hope this is not indicative of what Beam Global is going to do with its acquisitions. They recently acquired Cooley, makers of my favorite Irish dram, Kilbeggan. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

    All this talk of Dickel induced me to purchase another bottle of No. 12. My local booze emporium only carries the No. 12 in half-gallons. What a sacrifice!

    Salud, guys!

  22. DBMaster says:

    Jason, didn’t your mother tell you that self-abuse would result in blindness? :)

  23. Bmac says:

    @DBMaster – I too am in the DFW area and I suspect you may be referring to Beverage Deopt, which only sells Dickel No 12 at 1.75l. You can find the 750 at Big Daddys but…at their costs you might as well buy the 1.75 O__O

  24. DBMaster says:

    Actually, I am in Denton County. I most frequently buy at Goody-Goody in Highland Village. G-G’s stores in Addison and The Colony both have the 750ml bottles, but the HV store only carries the 1.75L. No biggie for me. The 750′s are around $22 and the 1.75 is $35.50 so it’s a better deal, anyway. The HV store DOES carry No. 8 and Cascade Hollow in 750′s. I guess they know what sells. Goody-Goody also owns Buckeye. They shop the area and generally are the low price leader. I’ve been a G-G customer for around 25 years.

  25. Bmac says:

    I’m in Mesquite…which just recently allowed the sale of Wine and Beer. I have to travel to inner city Dallas to find anything. i commute to Irving for work and that’s how I found Beverage Depot. Their prices are consistently cheaper than anywhere else.

    Hey DBMaster, if any of those stores in Denton happen to have a bottle of Parker’s Heritage Collection Wheated Mashbill…let me know. :)

  26. Texas says:

    There sure does seem to be a lot of us Texans on these various whisk(e)y boards…even my Houston Spec’s is up in y’alls area now.

    Jason thanks for saving from me Rebel Yell. I love Weller 12 year and got Jefferson Presidential 18 year (old Stitzl-Weller bourbon) and Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year for Christmas as well and was thinking about trying other wheaters. I will scratch Rebel Yell off my list.

  27. DBMaster says:

    Texas, I recall that Houston had a plethora of liquor stores. Am I the only one who thinks that Texas laws are ridiculous concerning package sales? The actual city in which I live only allows beer and wine package sales. So, Highland Village gets the tax revenue for liquor sales. You can only buy liquor in Texas Mon-Sat from 10:00am to 9:00pm and never on Sundays. I am guessing that’s why our prices are always a few bucks more than what you see as the “price” on various reviewers’ sites. GD12 is a great example. In many areas it IS a sub $20 whisky. Not around here!

  28. Zeke says:

    Howdy!

    I can’t believe that no one mentioned that in the 60s and 70s Rebel Yell was Keith Richard’s Bourbon of Choice. While it no longer may approach its previous greatness, some acknowledgment of its past should be given.

    Billy Idol spent a day with Keith and that’s how the song came into being.

  29. Bmac says:

    I find it interesting that the demand for good wheated bourbons haven’t taken notice. From a commercial business perspective…if I see another company making it big and famous with a product type, I would invest in a product that would compete. Pappy Van Winkle, and the Weller products are dominating the wheated bourbon market and it’s all from one distillery. Berhiem is owned by Heaven Hill, but you very little press about it. Cabin Still, it seems, is still produced under HH but so far i have found it in 1.75L plastic bottle. It might as well be sold at Walmart. Maker Mark is about average but they are so big they probably feel like there isnt a point to making an ultra-premium product. There is no reason why each distillery couldn’t produce an ultra-premium annual release and use the same scarcity tactic to generate massive income.

    In fact, i wonder if having a sub-par wheated bourbon saturating the market is killing interest in wheated bourbons?

    Are we, the wheat lovers, a minority in the metrics? If so, that might be why they are so few.

  30. Rich Ford says:

    Jason – that’s fair.

    I guess my question is philosophical. Is a 1-10 rating scale in which nothing ever scores below 6.2 really a 1-10 rating scale?

    Very amusing that some of your readers suggest you establish a new ratings floor by taste testing Red Stag. That would really be “taking one for the team.”

    I do really enjoy this blog. Please keep up the great work.

  31. Rich, I have trouble today when I review something (that I consider very good) an 8.2. People will many times respond with, “Wow, that’s a low review.” I honestly couldn’t imagine if I pulled that scale down to say the 6-7 range in a effort to stretch across a 10 point scale. To this point I’ve not reviewed many really bad whiskeys, and I’ll explain that below. That’s not to say they aren’t out there, I’ve just not ran into too many yet. And honestly I don’t consider Rebel Yell as bad whiskey – it’s just not good or even very good whiskey. In my opinion though, there isn’t a perfect scale out there – including mine.

    As for my reviews to date. I’ll ask that folks understand that I purchase 80+% of the whiskeys I review. I do get samples but they are few and far between. So when I purchase a whiskey I am first doing so as a consumer. I know enough to purchase whiskeys that are many times “good” in the very least, and most of the time “Very good” or above. And that’s simply because I’m interested in providing great insight on a whiskey, but also realize that I have to want to finish the bottle as well. ; )

    As for Red Stag – that is funny indeed that folks would like to see what I think. To be honest, and at the risk of sounding biased, I think it’s silly silly whiskey. I hate this flavored whiskey trend. I think it sucks out loud. At the same time, if people want to hear what I think of it I’m happy to oblige. Also I realize that I am not the audience for Red Stag and all this honey flavored bullshit that finds its way to the market. It’s selling by the truckload so somebody is drinking the crap out of it, but it isn’t me. Beyond curiosity, my reviewing it is pointless for a reader because that’s just not my kind of stuff.

    Anyways those are just some of my thoughts on ratings and whatnot. You are not alone in questioning my scale a bit. I agonized over it for weeks and weeks (no lie) before I went with it. But then I realized something very important. It’s less about the scale being perfect and more about building trust with a reader so they know what I mean. If that’s accomplished then the scale is inconsequential.

  32. JDW says:

    The Rebel Yelp is one of the lightest, most evaporating whiskeys I have tried and much more similar to Irish than other American offerings. The worst whiskey I have tried was a Brown-Kaiser bottling from the ’80s that tasted like rubber cement. The Red Staggered came in a Jim Beam mini pack I purchased and was criminal indeed; but I would not give it the honor of worst whiskey as it is flavored. I have a suspicion, however, if Beam bottled the whiskey without the flavoring that we might have a worst ever winner. I am certain they are not using Booker’s for the base juice!

  33. Texas says:

    DBMaster..yep, Houston has a ton of stores. Spec’s Downtown store is by far the largest..and yes Texas has some mighty strange laws regarding liquor!

  34. DBMaster says:

    Does anyone else beside me think that some of the flavored whiskey trend is aimed at younger drinkers? For some reason, the first thing that came to mind when thinking about Red Stag was Cherry Skoal.

    Now, I’m sure they are not promoting booze to underage drinkers…

  35. Bmac says:

    I think it’s an attempt at competing with the wine-cooler, or instant cocktail party people.

    What we know for certain is that they are not marketing it to any self-respecting whiskey (or whisky) connoisseur ;).

  36. iskch1 says:

    I think that flavored whisky is target to the vodkas & rum flavor crowd market. They want a pie share from that market. Even J.D jump on the game.

  37. Agreed iskch1. I think that crowd plus the female market and younger consumers in general.

  38. JWC says:

    the current stuff is CRAP, a slap in the face to the S-W juice that made RB so desirable. if the current owners (luxco?) have any interest in reviving the brand, they better source their distillate from someone else. for current wheaters, i don’t think weller 12, weller special reserve or old antique weller can be beat for the price. i don’t need to mention pappy because everyone else does and just in case they needed help, it seems to show up in every episode of “justified” this season (in the last episode, you can see the top of a pappy 20yo). anyone who missed out on the current (2011) pappy 15 should try the vintage bourbon 17yo.

  39. Donald Maas says:

    Rebel Yell is tolerable as a mixer, but what can you expect for $11. Rebel Reserve is a little better, but I won’t be purchasing either ever again, they have been checked off my list. I love Maker’s 46, and Fighting Cock is good as well.

  40. Brian says:

    Irts been a while since I visited the website Jason. A lot has been happening -but I do want to share this small story.

    My dad died on June 1. Im in PA and they live in FL, so we needed to go through the contents of the house, etc. My parents were not drinkers, but they always did have some liqour on hand for entertaining – when they used to do that in the 1960s – 70s. My dad’s “cabinet” (really just a shelf) had some cheap liqours – and one was a bottle of Rebel Yell 90 proof – dated 1960 on the seal – half empty. Along with a truckload of other stuff, I took that along (ever hear of Ushers Green Stripe Scottish whisky? I didnt think so!).

    Im sittng here sipping a glass – just added a drop of water. Smelled it and knew it was wheated, and tasted it neat. I found it a bit harsh – the wheat came through and then faded to a thin cheap whiskey taste – adding the drop let the wheat flavor linger – and I even detected what I thought might be oak. Then I looked it up the in the “1001 Whiskies” book and read the comments here. I dont really disagree at all.

    For me – it was just the nostalgia – and to try another one I really hadnt had – or remembered having! Not one I’d buy, but this bottle is an antique and sits proudly in the dry sink alongside the other whiskies, and gives me a chance to recall my father whenever I might have a pour of it.

  41. Brian, I am terribly terribly sorry to hear about your father. What a tough thing to go through – I hope you and your family are hanging in there.

  42. Keith Isaman says:

    A lot of corn with notes of rye. A bit thin. Doesn’t cling to the glass like many bourbons. Not oaky like Wild Turkey. More near the Bulleit range, but actually better.
    As the nose was pleasant I expected a better after glow. Instead just a short finish. Paid 15 bucks for 750ml.

  43. Les Scarborough says:

    I found out about Rebel Yell from an antique dealer fro Saville Row. He claimed that he could not return to England without RY or rick attacks from his fellow dealers. I hear you, but I don’t agree. One, it’s bourbon. Not whiskey. I’m not looking for a bite, I’m looking for smooth. I consider the lack of burn etc. as a positive. Two, during my musician days, I found a couple of bartenders who would try blind taste tests, and Rebel Yell won far more often than other, quite expensive bourbons. One place was a famous bluegrass bar and the taste tests were fairly famous, especially among musicians. We know the difference, and granted, we’re not professional bourbon tasters, but there are quite a few of us that enjoy Rebel Yell. Plus, there’s Billy Idol and Keith Richards on our side. Plus the Saville Row folks. It’s good stuff. And we like it. I wonder how it would be rated if it was $90 per 750 ml. It seems civilized to us. Perhaps because we are from the south? Thanks!

  44. pharmerphil says:

    In the very back of my liquor cabinet, I located an unopened 1.75 liter bottle of 90 proof Rebel Yell. Price was $16.99 and was bought in the mid-90′s. Says it was distilled at the Rebel Yell Distillery, Louisville, Ky. No age statement. How does this 90 proof compare to the 80 proof Rebel Yell of today? Is it as bad, or is it better in comparison? Just wondering if I found something good, bad, or mediocre. Thanks.

  45. bruce smith says:

    I have tried to find your rating of Ezra Brooks. When using your search feature submission of the name comes up as Rebel Yell, but no mention of EB. Have you rated EB?

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  47. Shirazz says:

    I liked it. the negative reviews are off base. Evan Williams does not taste better and is crap.

  48. WHISKEYMAN says:

    Rebel Yell is a delicious bourbon. I’m not sure where the hate is coming from. Give it another sip or two, perhaps?

3 Trackbacks

  1. [...] 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 [...]

  2. [...] will say this: budget whiskeys with a less complex, less refined taste, such as the Rebel Yell, may rather fare better from a glass that doesn’t emphasize a neglected nose. An old [...]

  3. [...] and Ice Cream, and I have done a couple of collaboration reviews already. Please take a peek at the Wild Turkey 101 Rye reviews we did together to understand a little background on how this whole thing got started. [...]