If you’ve ever thought to yourself “this is a good bourbon, but what it really needs is a huge helping of ginger”, then you probably love a good Kentucky mule. And you also might be the exact audience for Rebel Yell Ginger, too. Personally, I love a good cocktail with ginger beer, but even I found myself wondering whether that ginger is worth adding to the whiskey itself.
In 1849, William Weller founded the W.L. Weller & Sons company. Weller was a distiller who pioneered the use of wheat instead of rye in bourbon for a lighter flavor, and the company produced their own distinct bourbons until they merged with the Stitzel distilling company in 1910. The subsequent company then became the Stitzel-Weller distilling company.
Sometime around 1950, Charles R. Farnsley (former Louisville mayor) had the idea to create the “Rebel Yell” brand to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Weller bourbon. His idea was to create the whiskey in small batches and distribute them solely in southern states (“rebel yell” being a term used for a particularly unique battle cry used by the Confederate soldiers in the American Civil War).
The company would eventually break up in 1972. Weller bourbon would be purchased by the Sazerac company and produced by their Buffalo Trace distillery, but the Rebel Yell brand was purchased by David Sherman Corporation (now Luxco, who also produce Everclear grain alcohol) and production moved to the Heaven Hill distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky. They also expanded distribution to include the northern states.
In 2018, Luxco opened their own distillery in Bardstown just down the road from Heaven Hill. They’re dubbed this facility Lux Row Distillers.
Rebel Yell has been a major cultural influence. Famously preferred by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, it was also reportedly the inspiration for Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell song.
While Luxco has their own distillery now, it seems like Rebel Yell is still produced by the Heaven Hill because the label states the spirit is “bottled for” Luxco instead of being bottled by Luxco. This will probably change sometime in the future as their self-produced whiskey gets to the appropriate age but, for now, it looks like it’s still Heaven Hill.
The whiskey starts as a combination of 68% corn, 20% wheat, and 12% malted barley. An interesting note: there’s no rye in the grain bill. Evan Williams, which is made in the same Heaven Hill location, includes rye in their usual recipe, so this difference immediately got me wondering.
As is pretty standard, the grains are mashed, fermented, and distilled before being put into charred oak barrels for at least two years. For this ginger version of their whiskey, the finished bourbon is then infused with ginger to add the distinct flavor.
While the standard line of Rebel Yell has had a face lift in recent years updating its branding, this flavored version generally retains the original pattern. The label is designed to look slightly tattered and aged, and has the traditional grey lettering in an old style font for the brand name.
Grey lettering… for the Confederacy. This might have been a solid marketing idea in 1950’s America, but in the current political climate, it might not be the best strategy for enticing new customers. Although, I’m sure their marketing department realizes that the grey font is the least of their problems, considering the brand name itself carries problematic connotations.
Added to that label design is an illustration of a ginger root and the word “ginger” in cursive, which is possibly the least effort put into a flavored whiskey label variation I’ve ever seen.
Overall, the bottle is a fairly standard design: portly and round-bodied bottle with a rounded shoulder and short neck. The bottle is capped with a plastic and cork stopper.
It’s a rather standard design for a bottle, with no chances being taken here. And, as usual, my pet peeve of an opaque label obscuring our view of the whiskey within is present.
The whiskey smells like what can best be described as a flat Vanilla Coke. There’s some ginger in there, a dash of honey, and the all important vanilla for an aroma that frankly is better than what you usually get out of Rebel Yell. There’s also a distinct sweetness, which is probably where I’m getting the Coca Cola aspects.
Taking a sip, you can tell that there’s some added sugar in here. I feel like it’s their attempt to make this something similar to Fireball, a wildly popular flavored and sweetened whiskey. But for those of us who left our college party years behind, it’s a disappointing addition. The good news is that it isn’t cloyingly sweet, but instead just sweet enough to be noticeable.
More good news is that the alcohol burn I usually associate with Rebel Yell is missing right out of the gate. The flavor is much smoother and rounder, with the exception of a shock of ginger that can only described as akin to biting into a ginger root. Once that initial shock wears off (and your taste buds have time to regroup), you should be able to catch the other flavors from the aroma, mainly the vanilla and the honey notes shining through.
As you’d expect from a flavored and sweetened whiskey, the sugar content in this spirit doesn’t mix well with the ice water and results in a rather pretty swirling pattern in the glass. Pretty for you, but not good for your pre-diabetic pancreas.
Really the main impact here is that the sweetness is toned down a bit thanks to the added dilution from the ice cubes, and the ginger really starts to shine more brightly as the star of the show. It’s not quite loud and obnoxious, it’s more like a consistent resonant note.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I actually had some high hopes for this as an old fashioned. There’s enough sweetness in the spirit that you shouldn’t really need to add any sugar, and the flavors might actually work well together. But, in reality, the angostura bitters just get lost in the confusion.
What you’re left with here is just a slightly more bitter version of the spirit with some ice in it. Not much is added by the cocktail components, and certainly not enough to make it stand out.
You know what? This is actually pretty damn delicious.
Here’s the catch, though. This is just a super-sugary Moscow mule. None of the whiskey flavors are really making it through — the vanilla might be peeking it’s head in the door from time to time, but that’s it. You probably could have added a whole mess of simple syrup to an existing Moscow mule and gotten the same effect.
The only thing that this really brings to the table, besides its hilariously low alcohol content, is a bit more ginger in the flavor. Compared to a normal Kentucky Mule, this is just an incredibly ginger-y version. Which was fine for me, since I’m a fan of ginger… but I can easily see this not being for everyone.
The good news here? It’s the least expensive flavored whiskey we’ve ever tried, and it’s also not patently offensive to the taste buds. The bad news? It just isn’t that good… unless you’re looking for a super sweet alcoholic shot of ginger.
And while the whiskey might not be offensive in and of itself, the label and branding might be.
|Luxco Rebel Yell Ginger
Kentucky, United States
Classification: Flavored Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 35% ABV
Price: $11.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 2/5
The level of sugar and ginger may leave some yelling out in pain.