Rebel Yell Cognac Cask Finished Bourbon Review

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The Rebel Yell brand was originally created in the late 1940’s for the world-renowned Stitzel-Weller Distilling Co. to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Weller company. Initially distilled in very small batches and exclusively distributed in southern states (with Civil War-era confederate labelling to match), Rebel Yell was a private-label wheated bourbon that was bottled and given as gifts to friends and family of the Farnsleys who co-owned the company at the time. With the Civil War centennial in the 1960’s, the brand went public as a 5 y.o. 90 proof bourbon. The brand followed a colourful journey, remaining a Stitzel-Weller product from the 60’s to the 90’s, becoming a 6 y.o. bourbon  in the 70’s and 80’s and inspiring Billy Idol to write his song ‘Rebel Yell’ after he saw the Rolling Stones drinking it backstage at a concert. A year after the song was released, then-owners United Distillers dropped the proof down to 80 and started nationwide distribution of Rebel Yell. In 1992, after United Distillers moved their production to Bernheim from Stitzel-Weller, Rebel Yell began production alongside the other wheated bourbons in the United Distillery portfolio, however,  seven years later, United Distillers sold its Bernheim distillery to Heaven Hill and the various brands produced there to the highest bidders. Rebel Yell’s brand and assets were then sold to the David Sherman Corporation in St. Louis which is now Luxco.

In January 2018, Luxco started operations in their state-of-the-art Lux Row Distillers distillery. Located on a 90-acre site, the facility boasts a 18,000 square feet distillery building, 6 barrel warehouses, a tasting room, an event space, and will eventually have the capacity to produce over 7 million proof gallons a year and store 20,000 to 50,000 barrels on site. Under the watchful eye of Head Distiller John Rempe, it is envisioned that this facility will become the source for Luxco’s extensive brand portfolio as demand for their products continued to grow. Although still a sourced product from distilleries like Heaven Hill, Luxco currently produces seven Rebel Yell products including their classic Rebel Yell straight bourbon, Rebel Yell 100 proof straight bourbon, Rebel Yell 10 y.o. straight bourbon, Rebel Yell straight rye, Reel Yell straight bourbon finished in French Oak, Rebel Yell bourbon infused with ginger root, and Rebel yell bourbon infused with root beer flavourings.

Following the success of Rebel Yell French Oak Finish last year, this year Rebel yell are launching the second of their exclusive international releases designed to meet growing demand from whiskey drinkers in the UK and EU. Rebel Yell Cognac Cask Finish sees Rebel Yell’s Kentucky straight wheated bourbon finished in cognac casks for six months, before being bottled at 45%. Similar to last year’s Rebel Yell French Oak Finish, a limited run of 6,000 bottles of the Cognac Cask Finish is set to be released during the next 12 months starting in October.

Speaking about the release, Lux Row Distillers’ master distiller and head blender John Rempe said:

Secondary finishing is having a huge renaissance in the bourbon category, as it really appeals to consumers who typically value age statements and vintages in spirits. This is particularly true in the UK and Europe, where a secondary finish in bourbon is regarded as a yardstick for creative and complex flavours that must be tasted and savoured. Last year’s special finish of Rebel Yell was a bit of an experiment to test demand amongst the brand’s European fanbase and to reward their loyalty. It proved such a hit that it inspired us to create this year’s cognac finish. The challenge for us was to create another limited-edition Rebel Yell that was distinctly different to the spicy, chocolate and ginger taste of the French Oak in 2019. The cognac casks really do give the bourbon a completely different character, with the subtle taste of raisins setting this year’s release apart.” 

Today I’ll be taking a look at this new release to see if it holds up against the French Oak Finish (which was a massive success in my opinion!). I’ve never had a cognac-cask finished bourbon before so I’m interested to see what the interplay between the wheated bourbon and traditional cognac flavours will turn out to be.

Vital Stats:

Name: Rebel Yell Kentucky Straight Bourbon Finished in Cognac Casks
Age: NAS
Proof: 90 proof (45% ABV)
Type: Kentucky straight wheated bourbon finished in French ex-cognac casks
Mashbill: 68% corn, 20% wheat & 12% malted barley
Producer: Lux Row Distillers
Website: https://rebelyellbourbon.com/whiskey/
Glassware: Glencairn

Review

Nose: The nose opens with warm toasted oak, raisins, caramel, earthy baking spices, citrus peel, and roasted nuts in the back.

Palate: The palate opens thick and faintly sweet with notes of wheat grain, bright caramel, faint soft red fruit, and a touch of spice followed by an earthy note of caramelised nuts. The longer you chew the more spice and old faintly herbaceous oak notes also emerge alongside some faint char.

Finish:  The finish opens with soft notes of toasted oak, caramel, and an aftertaste of raisins and earthy spices.

Overall

When it comes to the second release of any series it’s always difficult to not compare it to what came first, in this case the French Oak finish. As such, I drank half of my 50ml sample of this on its own, and the other half side by side with the Rebel Yell French Oak finished bourbon. As a stand-alone take on a wheated bourbon I’ll be the first to say that the influence from the Cognac casks is very subtle here. Instead of those wine notes wiping out the character of the base spirit this has remained a wheated bourbon first with the Cognac’s influence not becoming glaringly obvious until about the mid palate. This is where those distinctive notes of dried red fruit and sweetness emerge to compliment the wheated bourbon notes which in their own are grain-forward and exuberant. There’s also a very pleasant and syrupy mouthfeel which I can’t help but assume has come from the Cognac casks.

Drinking this side by side with the French Oak cask finished bourbon, the first thing I noticed was that the colour is a lot lighter on the Cognac cask finish. I put this down to the French Oak casks having probably been brand new and full of all those French Oak tannins to give, whereas the second fill Cognac casks being second fill and having less. Moving on to the nose, I was very surprised to find that the Cognac cask bourbon was more flavourful and rounder than the French Oak cask bourbon, and gave a much wider and more balanced diversity of flavours and notes. On the palate, the French Oak confirmed my hypothesis of being new barrels with a strong tannic oak and dried fruit-heavy flavour profile alongside added spice that the Cognac finish didn’t have but also didn’t need. Instead it was sweeter, with more subtle notes of Cognac that only concentrated as you continued to chew and tasted great.

Comparing these two again highlights further problems with comparing different releases using different finishes. Whereas the French Oak cask bourbon is more flavour-intense and tannin-heavy, the Cognac cask bourbon is light, sweet, and syrupy. Both are delicious but both are also distinct in what they’ve added to the same bourbon base.

Honestly, this release is delicious and a further testament to the approach that John Rempe is taking at Rebel Yell when producing these unique finishes. Not only are the flavours well balanced but in both instances the oak has added something unique that really works well with the underlying bourbon base. I’m very much looking forward to what comes next in this series!

Try or Buy?

This release has an RRP of £34 which, despite a £4 increase on the French Oak release, is still quite affordable and puts this directly in the buy buy buy category. In fact, buy both, try them side by side, and let me know if you agree with my opinion on the differences in overall profile between the two!

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