Rebel Distiller’s Collection – Store Pick!

Barrel No. 7112042 selected by K&L (2020)

MASH BILL – 68% corn, 20% wheat, 12% barley

PROOF – 113

AGE – 5+ years (barreled 6/17/15 and bottled Fall 2020)

DISTILLERY – Lux Row Distillers (sourcing from an unstated KY distillery)

PRICE – $44

WORTH BUYING? – I’d say no, given other bourbons (even in the Rebel line) offer comparable or better experiences for less $

Many longstanding brands have had revamps lately as the bourbon business—long-haul by nature—has continued to roll with the ongoing bourbon boom. Old timers remember well the decades-long bust times, so I doubt any of them take whiskey’s current popularity for granted. It could easily subside as steadily as it has exploded, “what goes up must come down” and all.

The Rebel Yell name has been around since the 1930s or so, when it was produced by Stitzel-Weller. Today it falls under the wing of Lux Row Distillers, the somewhat recently (2016) christened name of LuxCo’s Kentucky based bourbon operations.

Luxco, Inc., founded in 1958, is a producer, importer and marketer of numerous alcohol products. Its portfolio includes tequila, vodka, and cordial brands, the infamous Everclear grain alcohol brand, as well as whiskey lines like Ezra Brooks, Rebel, Yellowstone, The Quiet Man Irish Whiskey, and Lord Calvert Canadian Whisky. Of those, Lux Row Distillers looks after Ezra Brooks and Rebel, as well as Daviess County, Blood Oath, David Nicholson Reserve and 1843, and a Lux Row labelled 12-year release. Where they source their whiskeys is not stated, though the mash bill of Rebel at least suggests Heaven Hill.

I’ve tried the standard Ezra Brooks 90 proof and Old Ezra 7 Year Barrel Strength releases, favoring the latter as a solid Kentucky bourbon with decent kick to it. The Rebel 100 release is a perfectly fine if not terribly memorable wheated bourbon—good for its roughly $25 price point. The less widely released Rebel 10 Year Single Barrel is somewhat sought after, without remotely commanding the fervor of any release from Rebel’s big wheated bourbon competitor, Weller.

The newer Distiller’s Collection renditions of Ezra Brooks and Rebel are higher proof single barrel releases, sold exclusively as store picks. They currently tend to hover around 5 years of age. The Ezra is bottled at a standard 107 proof, and Rebel at 113 proof—so, not actually barrel strength, but decent proofs for those who prefer the 100+ proof range.

I tried a recent Ezra Brooks Distiller’s Collection pick from K&L, and wasn’t terribly excited about it. I kept trying. But about a third of the way through the bottle I gave it to a friend. So it was with some anticipation of disappointment that I recently uncorked this Rebel Distiller’s Collection pick, also from K&L.

Out of the gate, however, it was very nice. The nose showed raw chocolate chip cookie dough, subtle baking spices and gingersnap cookie. The taste was then very true to the nose, with a nice crisp edge of caramelized sugars. Finish was the same. What it lacked in complexity it made up for in consistency. A good basic wheater benefitting from a solid proof, which punches up flavors that might be dull at lower proofs.

So the uncorking pour actually left me quite curious to go on the journey with this bottle…

And so here we are, a little over a week later and three pours into the bottle. Tasted today in a traditional Glencairn, here are some notes in brief.

COLOR – beautiful golden and russet-amber oranges

NOSE – tart apricot, dusty oak, dry baking spices, a sweet doughy bread, orange and lemon zest

TASTE – the tart fruit aspect up front, then slightly astringent oak followed by the baking spices and doughy bread notes, and a creamy caramel note running beneath the sharper fruit and citrus zest notes

FINISH – raw cut oak, creamy caramel, a fine peppery burn at the edges, an astringent quality, the flavors fading fairly quickly leaving only the heat to linger…

OVERALL – an average bourbon

It’s interesting that today, for whatever reasons having to do with how long the bottle has been open in combination with the state of my own body’s chemistry and water/food intake, this bourdon is showing more fruit and citrus notes than it has previously. Right away on the nose, that tart apricot note took me by surprise. Getting further into it I found the softer bakery notes I’d picked up on previous tastings. But today the main themes are fruity and tart, with a lingering astringency that distracts from what is legitimately pleasant about the bourbon.

Despite this interesting change of direction, it’s just not that interesting of a bourbon. At $44 I’d even say it’s overpriced for the tasting experience it offers. This is an experience I’d expect from the entry level Rebel 100. If I had a bottle on my shelf I’d compare them. But off the cuff I can’t say the Distiller’s Collection’s 13 extra proof points and single barrel status are much of an improvement upon the $25 mass-blended Rebel 100, so, why buy this and not that? …Out of curiosity, of course.

But I’d rather pay another $25 on top of the $44 price of this Rebel Distiller’s Collection for the Rebel 10 Year Single Barrel. The Distiller’s Collection seeks to align itself with the 10 Year by sharing the same bottle design. Yet even the 10 Year isn’t worth breaking too much of a sweat to track down. It’s good, for sure. But like every outing in the Rebel line I’ve had there is something average at work, even in that annual 10 Year limited release.

I do believe bourbon needs what we call “bottom shelf” offerings. When you’re mixing drinks you don’t need the really good stuff. And sometimes you want something affordable to sip neat that isn’t going to demand much from you. There are better such bourbons for that than Rebel. Larceny comes to mind—which, incidentally, shares the same mash bill and so also likely the same source. And there’s Weller, of course, though its entry-level Special Reserve hardly qualifies as “bottom shelf” anymore due to its price explosion in many parts of the country. And if we step away from wheated bourbons, I’d certainly reach for Wild Turkey 101 or Very Old Barton before reaching for Rebel.

Ah well. Cheers nonetheless!

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