Friday, February 22, 2013

Rebel Yell Review: Wheaters Part 1

Maybe it's because I'm a Yankee?
I admit it. I did not at first want to do this review. I wanted to drink fancy, hard to get bourbon and talk about how great it was. But on a diversion during an emergency run to buy some collar stays, I saw this bottle of Rebel Yell for $12.99. Six whole dollars less than a box of brass collar stays: I couldn't afford not to try this.

The name Rebel Yell refers to the battle cry of the Confederacy during the American Civil War. The whiskey itself was initially a Stizel-Weller brand, named by the then-mayor of Louisville, Charles Farnsley, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of S-W in 1949, and was distributed "especially for the deep south."

This was a product made using a wheated bourbon mashbill at S-W until the plant closed in 1992. It is currently made at Heaven Hill's new Bernheim distillery under contract for Luxco, who also market Ezra Brooks.

Made perhaps more famous by the Billy Idol song, which was itself inspired by the Rolling Stones' apparent enthusiasm for the bourbon, the S-W of that time is long gone; so how will this guy drink out? Apparently a group review by Sku, Jason Pyle and Tim Read did not go so well, but as I don't know those guys (though their blogs are great), I'm going to make up my own mind.  Besides, apart from all of the obvious controversy of Confederate themed things, this somehow connected with pleasant memories of Dukes of Hazard watched on the living room floor during my few childhood years in Georgia.

Still made using a wheated mashbill (like all the ex-S-W brands except Cabin Still), this bourbon is labeled as Straight Bourbon without an age statement (so at least 4 years) and bottled at an uninspiring 80 proof, the legal minimum for bourbon.

In the glass, the RY pours a very light color, say apple juice or maybe something more personally biological. Maybe it's the heavy dilution, but this is likely also very close to the minimum 4 years.

This smells like wheated bourbon, from far away. I got my nose wet trying to actually smell it. I get faint caramel, a touch of pine resin, some nondescript graininess (wheat crackers, cooked pasta?), and prominent alcohol despite the low proof. Also here and there a wisp of bubblegum that is not at all welcome. (edit: I think this is actually a dance party fog machine smell).

Dear god this is young. Very hot on the palate for 80 proof. Sweet, but only a little of the vanilla and caramel flavors that usually accompany oak sweetness. Cereal grains and some bitterness. I'd be lying if I said I could find much else.

So far, the stuff has been boring, but inoffensive. The finish, while not too harsh from the alcohol burn point of view, is objectionable. The initial finish is sweet but then quickly turns bitter with a rancid corn-oil note. It leaves the mouth feeling unclean, greasy and, somehow, guilty.

I live in Pennsylvania. This is the only wheater under $20 I can buy locally. I wanted it to be better. I knew it wasn't going to be great, but it takes a special kind of bourbon to let me down at the $13 price point. But this. This is pointless.

This bourbon makes me sad for the world. I'm going to go lie down. I'll have a review of some Weller and Van Winkle products soon. I'm just sorry.


  1. It's important to drink the bottom shelf from time to time to calibrate your palate and get a handle on value. I've somehow managed to miss this one. Sounds like a lucky break. Cheap bourbon is a fact of life - and often represents serious value. There are some fine cheap bourbons out there from Jim Beam White, Evan Williams Black, Four Roses Yellow etc... Many of these can be found virtually any place you'd run across RY - so "pointless" may be an apt description!

  2. Thank you for the review. I tried the Rebel reserve when it was on sale in OR for $19. Also very disappointing. It came out dead last in a bourbon tasting I hosted.

    1. I'm sorry, but I can't say I'm surprised. I have a hard time understanding why this stuff is so much worse than it has to be. Old Weller Antique 107 for $22 just devastates RY in every possible way and I can't but imagine the Rebel Reserve would fare any better. Thanks for taking one for the team and trying it.

  3. please if someone can send me this product to me at

  4. I actually think Rebel Reserve is fine on the rocks. Aged longer, higher proof. It doesn't disappear when water is added, like RY does. The taste of Rebel Reserve is mostly brown sugar, corn, oak and a little nutty leather thrown in. Not complex at all, but it has testicular fortitude, and probably tastes more like the original RY once did.

  5. I’ve been drinking expensive and all types of bourbon for decades. This RY got a gold at the 2016 San Francisco Tastings why? Because it’s smooth and delicious. The ubiquitous critiques from narcissistic palates wears thin on me after awhile. Yes there’s better and Pappy rules because I’ve tried it. But I age poor mans pappy in my own oak and refuse to chase supply side economics of Pappy at 1500.00 per bottle? Come on folks this is a joy to sample diversity in distilling just as I enjoy the diversity of foods Indian especially where seasoning is an Art Form passed through the ages. I enjoy Rebel Yell as I sit at my lakehouse sipping slow and relaxed. Is it the same to be competing with 50 to 100.00 dollar bottling? No but enjoyable and not to be excluded by palates so sophisticated that they have forgotten the diversity of the joy of the journey as we taste and sample the many offerings worthy of our exploration. Don’t listen to me or anyone, try Rebel Yell because it interests you and it won an award gold in 2016. Not because of anyone’s review. Carpe Deim and peace be with you as you embrace the tasting and journey with Bourbon.