Tuesday, February 10, 2015

With a Rebel Yell They Cried "More, More, More"

Rebel Yell Bourbon has new packaging. Normally that isn't enough to quicken the pulse, but there is a lot more new at the iconic brand.

Rebel Yell is produced by Luxco, a non-distiller producer (NDP) based in St. Louis, Missouri. Their undisclosed bourbon supplier is in Kentucky.

Rebel Yell is an old brand, acquired by Luxco in 1999 from Diageo. It was originally a Stitzel-Weller product, started by one of the owners on behalf of his nephew, a Louisville politician. The politician wasn't a whiskey man, but he thought there was a market for a bourbon targeted exclusively to the old Confederacy. Until 1984, Rebel Yell was only sold below the Mason-Dixon Line.

As a Stitzel-Weller bourbon, Rebel Yell used wheat as its flavor grain instead of rye. It still does. Never a fancy whiskey, the flagship expression still sells for about $15 a bottle. If you want more, more, more, there's Rebel Yell Small Batch Reserve, with a little more proof and, presumably, a little more age (all of the expressions are NAS).

Just appearing on store shelves now is a new Rebel Yell Rye Whiskey (distiller unknown) and a Rebel Yell 'American Whiskey,' that combines bourbon and rye. The brand family also includes two liqueurs; one honey-flavored, one cherry. Luxco is a rectifier and has the ability to make liqueurs itself.

That brings the Rebel Yell portfolio to six expressions.

Like Rebel Yell Honey and Rebel Yell Cherry, most of today's so-called flavored whiskeys are not whiskey at all, even though they carry whiskey brand names. They are liqueurs. This is true of segment leaders Wild Turkey American Honey, Jack Daniel's Honey, and Fireball. Red Stag by Jim Beam is the exception. It is a Distilled Spirit Specialty, described as "Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Infused with Natural Flavors."

It's not bourbon, but at least that means it contains straight bourbon and no other alcohol. With a liqueur, you have no idea how much whiskey it contains, if any. Because it's a liqueur, some of the alcohol may not come from whiskey. Some or even most of it may be neutral spirit, i.e., vodka.

Not to get too deep into arcane federal regulations but there is a classification for 'flavored whiskey,' it's just rarely used. As a normal human understands the term, Red Stag is 'flavored whiskey,' while most of its competitors are not.

In addition to Rebel Yell and David Nicholson in the bourbon category, Luxco has Ezra Brooks, Bellows, and Yellowstone. In December it announced a joint venture with Kentucky craft distiller Limestone Branch to return the Yellowstone brand to its roots.


Dave Pickerell said...

Chuck, a simple search of the COLA on line database will show that Red Stag is NOT a Kentucky Straight bourbon ... and could NEVER be classified as such. It is a Distilled Spirit Specialty ... of specifically, in this case, a whiskey specialty. The only requirement for labeling a DSS is a truthful statement of what is in the bottle. Here, it is KY Straight Bourbon, infused with natural cherry flavors. It is NOT a Bourbon!

Chuck Cowdery said...

You're right, Dave. Thanks for the catch. I'll correct the post.

Sam Komlenic said...

Rebel Yell was amazing shit in the late 80s, worthy of a trip south of the Mason-Dixon, many times, and it took me another decade to understand why. Stitzel-Weller was indeed a stellar distillery.

Too bad the current product does not maintain the same quality despite the claims on the label

Durham4556 said...

I'm pretty sure Rebel Yell is made at HH, so is Ezra Brooks. I actually suggested to them they open a storefront/visitor center (cant be a distillery though) somewhere that would highlight Rebel and Ezra. considering they have so many expressions. with Yellowstone being moved to Limestone that will give the brothers a flagship bourbon.

Robert Griffin said...

The Rebel Reserve is pretty nice. I toured Luxco a few months ago and was told it's a blend of 2 whiskeys- a 6 year old wheater from Heaven Hill and "a much older wheated bourbon from a Kentucky distillery we cannot disclose." Low to mid 20s in Missouri and worth every penny.

Anonymous said...

Dave, I agree Red Stag should be a DSS. Red Stag has a handful of COLAs that properly classify it as a DSS, but check TTB ID: 13263001000255. On that particular one of the bunch it's classified as a Straight Bourbon Whisky! How'd that slip through?