Good things come to those who wait.
What we now know as the Rebel (Yell) brand of bourbon has been produced in Kentucky since 1849. The brand prides itself on the fact that their original recipe focussed on a wheat-heavy recipe whilst everyone else around them was leading with rye at the time, and that they have remained rebellious ever since.
In recent years the Rebels have dropped their Yell but not their attitude, as they go simply by Rebel Bourbon. Under ownership of Luxco and production at Lux Row Distillery, the Rebel brand has developed a few core releases in addition to their classic Kentucky Straight Bourbon recipe, namely: Rebel 100 Proof, and Rebel Straight Rye.
In addition to their core roster of Kentucky whiskies, since 2016, the Rebels have released an annual limited edition, the Rebel 10 Year Single Barrel Bourbon, to great acclaim:
As the name suggests, the annual expression contains bottlings from a single named and numbered barrel of Rebel Bourbon. Each year the ingredients come from a spirit made from a mash of corn, wheat, and malt which has been housed solely in their charred American white oak barrels for the requisite 10 years – and the final bottles contain the exact name and number of their barrel of origin for that seal of authenticity.
Like those before it, the 2022 release of the 10-Year Single Barrel has been bottled at 50% ABV or 100 Proof. Fewer than 20,000 bottles have been released this year – in their US full-sized volume of 750ml – and those that appear in the UK are selling for around £70-75 per unit. (£72.95 on Master of Malt at the time of writing, but already sold out folks).
Sweet and buttery popcorn. Maybe drizzled with caramel sauce. A little apple. A little lemon. Sweet drying oak.
A silky soft texture brings vanilla and toffee apples first up. Baking spices and warm cinnamon then add to the mix bringing Danish pastries and Cinnabon to mind. Mellow oak flavours come in at the end.
Sweet, soft, and mellow. [ed: maybe not the descriptors that would come to mind straight away when talking about ‘Rebels’]
It’s worth the wait. Hitting 10 years is a significant milestone for any distillery – particularly the bourbon market where a lot of younger whiskies get the limelight – but here the decade of maturation has taken their signature whisky and rounding off all the edges to make for a finely polished treat. There’s a distinct Kentucky straight bourbon set of profiles here but it just seems softer, sweeter, and… buttery-er?! What I mean is that the age has brought about a balance to an already enjoyable drop.
For context: when I was first getting into whisky, I spent a night trying out loads of different bourbons. At some point, it stopped being about exploration, and became about collecting the whole damn set. That ended in (inevitable) disaster. Whilst I could chalk it up to a life lesson, it took me a long time to get back onto the bourbon train, as that signature high perfume / sweet corn / fresh oak set of notes would just bring flashbacks of less-than-happy consequences. Since then, being older and (hopefully) wiser, I have enjoyed slowly but surely discovering bourbons over time however. The reason for this little editorial trip down memory lane is because this Rebel 10-Year has toned down and rounded out those signature, harder- hitting notes for something that just melds together as a nicer, mellower, and ultimately more enjoyable drink m. I know that the words “nicer” and “mellower” are hardly befitting of a ‘Rebel’ image, but that’s how it feels to this once-bitten palate anyway.
The stylings of this release really appeal to me too. Whilst I could take or leave the “Rebel” angle itself, you can’t deny that it does fit the scene well and does look rock and roll with the bold look of the bottle and its black and silver packaging. This both differentiates itself from Rebel’s core rounded shoulder releases whilst also avoiding looking like a Jack Daniel’s rip-off too, which some bourbons can fall foul of (whether intentionally or not!).
Annual expressions are an interesting beast too as they allow for fluctuation from year to year in terms of taste and also increase the potential for collectibility. Throw into the mix the variations of a whisky from one barrel to another, and you are even more likely to purchase something fairly unique – albeit within the same ball park that you’re clearly comfortable playing within. Does that mean the next one will be better or worse? You can only find out by buying it, right?
All in all, for me, this seems like a big step up in terms of enjoyable Kentucky Straight Bourbon. The starting point was enjoyable to begin with, but this is next level. Does it warrant a double in the price? That’s totally subjective of course. But to this subject: yes.
What’s even more subjective, is how you enjoy it. Drink it as you will, but to me this seems like more of a sipping and savouring affair. That 50% / 100 Proof is also very stealthy, so – with lessons learned – I will be taking my time with this, and enjoy it I shall.
Sample disclosure: This sample was released as part of a promotional flash blog orchestrated by Steve Rush @ The Whisky Wire with Chapman Poole. Use #RebelBourbon on Twitter to see other related posts. All notes are intended as an honest, fair, and independent review of the whiskey, and not as a promotion. Please drink responsibly. Please drink wisely.