While the label reads "established 1849," it's a little misleading. William Weller was an early pioneer of bourbon whiskey in the mid 1800s, and was one of the first to use wheat instead of rye in his recipes. But Rebel Yell wasn't created until 1936. The Stitzel-Weller distillery in Louisville Kentucky was opened on Derby Day in 1935 by Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle and produced or is associated with a number of other bourbons like, W.L. Weller, Old FItgerald, Old Rip Van Winkle and Cabin Still. The distillery closed in the 1990s over asbestos concerns and many of these brands were bought up by distilleries like Buffalo Trace and Heaven Hill. It has since been reopened and now serves as the headquarters of Bulleit whiskey. Today, Rebel Yell is owned by alcohol giant Luxco, and bottled under contract at the family owned Heaven Hill distillery in Louisville, Kentucky.
Rebel Yell was originally marketed as a bourbon for the deep south, but this changed in the late 1980s as it became available nationwide. In January, 2015, Rebel Yell underwent another re-branding to appeal to a new, younger demographic. Apparently it worked; the new look caught my attention and resulted in this review. (For an interesting inside look at marketing tactics, read this). But as I think about the recent national focus on racism and Confederate symbolism, I can't help but ask: Is it time for Rebel Yell to make a more drastic change? In a new book, historian Craig Warren calls the rebel yell "a more prominent symbol of Southern defiance than even the Confederate battle flag." As our culture continues to look into its past to uncover and correct implicit and often unintended reminders of racism, Rebel Yell has the opportunity to be a proactive industry and cultural leader. But what do you think? Should Rebel Yell change its name?
Rebel Yell Bourbon Whiskey:
Nose: Cinnamon, spices, orange, clove, sour mash.
Taste: Cinnamon, spices, butter, raisins, with a Jack Daniels-like finish. Smooth for a $10 whiskey.
For some tasty mixology and cocktail recipes, check out this page.