By Richard Thomas
Rebel Yell has gone through plenty of changes between its 1936 introduction* as a Stitzel-Weller bourbon and its present ownership by Luxco, reflected both by what is inside the bottle and in the appearance of the bottle itself. The brand began life as a small circulation release focusing mostly on Southern customers, but by the mid-1980s it had become a not-quite-bottom-shelf, nationally distributed whiskey.
The current version is still a wheated bourbon, staying within the Stitzel-Weller traditional mold. The source is one of the Louisville, Kentucky distilleries, although which one remains a mystery. The basic Rebel Yell is still a lower end, 80 proof bourbon, despite the fancy and stylish redesign, and likely a young one too. There isn’t an age statement, but as described below, the look and feel of the whiskey speaks to something just a little beyond the two year minimum required of straight bourbons.
What this bourbon yells is its youth. In the glass, it has a light copper appearance, a coloring that just barely scratches the bottom of the amber range. The nose is light and dominated by a very sweet citrus and caramel scent, but it’s not quite one-dimensional as it also has a certain leathery side to it as well. It is also a bit harsh, however.
The flavor is also very straight forward: core bourbon territory on the rough side. Corn sweetened caramel and vanilla, with a little earthiness stirred in, but also a certain harshness. The finish is undistinguished, with the flavors evaporating rapidly to leave only a solid ball of warmth sitting in your center.
The title here is certainly very appropriate, because this whiskey is certainly an authentic, young, and very rough-and-tumble creation. My view is that you need to like that rough side to get into this bourbon, because there are offerings that are both similarly priced and more refined.
As a lower tier whiskey, Rebel Yell has a very painless price tag that floats in the $12 to $14 range nationally. The problem is that Evan Williams, a higher proof and somewhat better bourbon, floats in the same price range. As I implied, the name says it all and you need to appreciate what that applies to get into Rebel Yell.