The story of Rebel Yell whiskey is one steeped in history and yet remains moving with the times.
The original Rebel Yell bourbon whiskey first appeared in 1936 out of the fabled Stitzel-Weller distilling company as a small batch production but the recipe itself dates back to 1849! As if that wasn’t enough whiskey provenance, their Kentucky Straight Bourbon was previously made under contract from Bourbon giants’ Heaven Hill at Bernheim distillery.
Nearly 80 years on, the brand is now owned by Luxco and produced at their own start-of-the-art site at Lux Row Distillers. Like I say, keeping rolling with the times, the brand has dropped its Yell, but not it’s bite, and is now simply Rebel Bourbon.
The whiskey featured here is actually the third instalment in an annual Special Finish series. For each release the four year old Rebel bourbon has seen a final 6 month maturation in special casks to bring something new to the oak table. In 2019 this was courtesy of a French Oak finish, in 2020 a Cognac Cask finish, and now for 2021 their recipe has seen the use of Tawny Port casks.
The release is limited to 6,000 bottles and will only be available outside of the US at RRP £39 per 70cl bottle. The whiskey has been captured at 45% ABV.
Fresh corny and starchy syrup sensations shoot straight up the nostrils on this one. They’re quickly followed by a whole raft of red fruit flavours: cherries, strawberries, blackberries, blackcurrants and red grapes. Beneath all of those there’s a familiar set of bourbon flavours courtesy of vanilla, cream, and a distinct butterkist toffee popcorn. There’s a slightly funky wood note at the back of all of this too: it’s not just oak though, it smells like the bark chippings from the tree too.
It’s all sweetness and light upfront with those strawberries and cream flavours appearing again, this time with some honeycomb added into the mix. As it sits on the tongue though there’s a growing bitterness to it – like lemon pith or grapefruit. There’s then a nutty flavour that builds too and that bitterness eventually resembles very dark chocolate, or even actual coffee grounds. The bitterness is joined by strong clove spice flavour too like a Christmassy German biscuit.
Those oak spices really fire up at the end here. Cracked black pepper and hot cinnamon fizzle all the way down and it leaves that earthy, bark flavour behind.
The great deceiver! This was all about the sweet and juicy flavours upfront on the nose but then as it hits the lips the bitterness and earthy flavours just kept on ramping up and then you get taken another way again once the spices hit you.
Confession time: I must say that I’m not much of a bourbon drinker but Kentucky Straight Bourbon seems to be the way I’m going. Ordinarily my bottle of regular Rebel (Yell) appears in cocktails or even on ice, but this Tawny Port finish needs to stand on its own and I could spend quite a bit of time with it (as I have for this sampling).
Obviously, my main whisk(e)y point of reference is scotch and yes ordinarily a tawny port will bring sweetness and juicy rounded flavours where it’s all about the red fruits. Whilst this bourbon does have that to begin with, the tawny port seems to bring something else entirely – I keep coming back to that grapefruit note and earthy set of flavours. It’s a port finish Jim, but not as we know it.
This whiskey is opening my eyes to something else in the bourbon world and is a drop worth savouring. It’s different and I like it.
How does it compare to their classic Rebel Kentucky Straight Bourbon you ask? Well…
The TP’s nose is tighter and more complex – the classic Rebel’s nose is direct, sticky sweet, and classic bourbon vanilla. Here the TP adds layers and rounds out the smell as per the many berries listed above. And that’s with a higher ABV (45%) on the TP than on the classic (40%).
Taste-wise it’s layers again with the classic Rebel’s vanilla and corn flavours at the centre. The softness of the texture in the classic Rebel seems to have been roughed up a little with the extra maturation and port influences.
The classic Rebel has your trade mark silky smooth bourbon finale but with a slightly astringent touch. The TP’s spices really crank up and keep you guessing whilst seemingly having tamed that astringent note from the classic.
Sample disclosure: This sample has been received as part of a flash blog exercise orchestrated by the tireless Steve Rush @ TheWhiskyWire in cooperation with Chapman Poole. All notes are intended as an honest, fair, and independent review of the whiskey itself and not as a promotion. Please drink responsibly. Please drink wisely.