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Rebel Yell American Whiskey

Posted on by Eric Burke

This is the second part of a two part post. The first being the story of how I got the bottle and a reminder that you don’t know what’s in a bottle of whiskey until you open it and take a taste.

Well. I’ve spent two weeks with this whiskey. It’s half gone and now I think I can talk about it. I’ve turned the bottle over and over in my hands looking at what is said and what is not said on the label. And I noticed a few things.

  • The most obvious is that it is a blend of bourbon and rye. The back label says: “Our original, time-honored recipe, perfectly blended with the rebellious spirit of rye.” From that I’m guessing it is the normal Rebel Yell wheated bourbon mixed with rye.
  • “Distilled and aged in Kentucky and Indiana.” So I’m going out on a pretty sturdy limb and saying that rye is from MGPi. 
  • This is a two-year age-stated whiskey. Remember, that’s the youngest whiskey in the bottle, there might be older whiskey in there. In fact I would guess there is since the flavor has a depth I wouldn’t expect from a two year whiskey.
  • Though it is two year, nowhere does it say “straight.” We’ve learned from Templeton that you can add minute amounts of flavoring to whiskey that isn’t labeled “straight.” Just throwing that out there. Though it is very possibly not applicable, I get a little nervous when a whiskey doesn’t say straight when it could.

I’m breaking format and telling you my thoughts now since this is such an odd situation. I can find next to nothing about this online aside from the Rebel Yell website, the COLAs and Chuck Cowdery’s blog announcing it back in February. I can’t even tell if it is for sale yet so I have no idea if this is a good value. I’d say if you get it for free in a regifting situation, the value is excellent. If you pay more than $20-25 you are probably over paying. It’s tasty but not on par with many other widely available whiskeys at that price point. Some even sold by Luxco, the company who makes this.

Rebel Yell American Bourbon

Purchase Info: Didn’t I just say I got it in a regifting situation?

Details: A Blend of bourbon and rye whiskey, 45% ABV

Nose: Cedar, mint, white sugar, leather and hints of vanilla

Mouth: Thin in the mouth, but it has a nice tingle to it. Oak, cloves, dark chocolate and a nice earthiness.

Finish: Fades quickly. The mint is back along with chocolate and cedar. 

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Thoughts: As detailed in the previous post, I went into this expecting something terrible. As such, it exceeded expectations. As a two-year age stated whiskey, I’m very impressed with it’s depth of flavor. Overall, for what it is, this is an impressive whiskey. I just don’t think I’d pay more than $25 for it.

Who knew all you needed to do to make Rebel Yell bourbon drinkable was add some MGP rye? So we've learned that.

Too many feels and then, eventually, a review of Wathen's Single Barrel

Posted on by Eric Burke

I had a pretty shitty weekend. It was supposed to be good. It was a holiday. I was going to spend time with my family at the family cabin. There would be drinks, cards, a fire, kids, family and friends. Everything was set up to be great. And it started out that way. 

Friday morning, I stopped off for a couple growlers of beer to take with us. As I waited for them to be filled, I thought it might be nice to have a touch of bourbon to close each night. So I looked at the bourbon selection and settled on one I hadn’t had before but could blog about. Might as well take one for the team, right? 

We were supposed to build a new fire pit over the weekend, but I noticed shortly after pulling in that my mom and step-dad had already finished it. This is going to be a nice weekend, I thought to myself. And so it seemed. That afternoon, we sat around the new fire pit and variously, read a book, played a game, or talked. It was a very nice afternoon. We had nice supper and then ended up playing cards. I broke into the growlers. Everything was going well.

It was a nice slow morning the next day. Relaxing. We ran to town, got supplies and generally enjoyed each other’s company while waiting for the rest of the group to get there. One of the highlights of the weekend was going to be the time I got to spend with my niece and nephew who were coming with my brother and his wife that afternoon. 

And everything went well until I noticed how my brother was treating my nephew (well, step-nephew, but I don’t count such things). You see he is on medication for ADHD and is suspected of suffering from depression. He is a rascal, to put it mildly. I identify a lot with what he is going through. I’m also the product of divorced parents. I also had a step-dad who met me while he wasn’t sure how to handle being a parent. I had problems with my mom, my dad, my step-dad, my step-mothers, my grandparents and step-grandparents…I was just generally an angry kid who suffered with undiagnosed depression (it wouldn’t be diagnosed until I was much older and dealing with my own teenager). I saw that I didn’t fit in in most of the “families” I had. Either I was related, but only seen every few months or I wasn’t related and was just another kid hanging about. All except my one set of grandparents. My mother leaned on them so much that my grandfather became sort of a surrogate father to me. He was the one I rebelled against, not my biological father. But he was also the one I looked up to more than anyone else.

I grew up with this hanging over my head for a long time. I was so angry. I was a good kid for the most part, but inside I was searching for why I didn’t belong. I just wanted to feel loved. And if that couldn’t happen, noticed. And when it came time for me to adopt my own daughter, I promised myself that she wouldn’t feel that way. That she would be loved and accepted by the family that I felt, at the time, had never fully accepted me. 

Guess what? I failed. I didn’t know how to be a parent at 19. I didn’t know how to take care of a teenager at 29. I didn’t know how to be the parent of a kid going through normal teenage stuff while dealing with the fact that she knew her dad had adopted her. Knowing that in order for that to happen, another man needed to have decided he didn’t want to be her dad. That’s heavy stuff. I wasn’t ready for it. I lashed out like an angry baby and, much like my step-father and I while I was living at home, we never really saw eye to eye. And to top it off, I don't know that parts of my extended family ever fully accepted her as family either. I have a sister I haven't talked to for years over some of her comments. 

So now, I see this happening with my nephew who is going through the same things I went through and then also the same things my daughter went through. And enough was enough. My brother is a father of two biological kids and can’t see he isn’t treating them the same way. My mother doesn’t realize that the things she’s saying are being absorbed and internalized by my nephew. On three separate occasions, I stepped in where I probably shouldn’t have (though my sister-in-law thanked me). I became an advocate for my nephew because I hate that I can see the same things that happened to me, and then to my daughter, happen to him. I picked two fights with my brother and one with my mother over it. I spent a lot of time alone in the camper because I was so mad I thought I’d do or say something I’d regret. 

It’s a good thing I bought that bourbon. It wasn’t the best bourbon I’d ever had, but it was enough to calm the nerves and let me breathe when I thought I would say something stupid. Nights around the fire may have included more than I should have had, but taking a sip instead of saying something stupid worked ok to keep me sorta talking to my brother. 

That bourbon? Wathen’s Single Barrel. Once I got home, I decided to review it and pour a couple samples for my sample library. That finished the bottle off. So, even though the bourbon was a welcome relief to a shitty weekend, how did it fair in the cold light of day? 

Wathen’s Single Barrel

Purchase Info: $29.99, 750 mL, Casanova Liquor, Hudson, WI.

Details: Barrel number: 4730. Bottled on July 22, 2014. 47% ABV

Nose: Vanilla, caramel, toasted almonds, faint melon and some oak. 

Mouth: Dry woodiness. Hot in the mouth. Caramel, toasted almonds and oak. 

Finish: Lingering heat and oak fading to a bitterness that if it were paired with more than just woody flavors would be pleasant. 

Thoughts: For me? Meh. I’m not a fan of overly dry, woody bourbons. And to my palate, that’s what this is. It’s more so than I would have expect from an NAS bourbon. 

Speaking of NAS, I do have a few beefs with this bourbon. The first being just that. This is an NAS bourbon. But right in the middle of the label is a large “eight” in a a script font. Under that in smaller type is the word “generations.” This subconsciously suggest and eight-year age statement. I know because I had to keep stopping myself from thinking of it as an 8-year old over and over. And I know better. Secondly, I really wish people would use a screw cap. That photo above? That’s the cork. It broke the second time we opened the bottle. Not only is a screw cap going to keep the bourbon inside tastier if it lasts more than a weekend, but it has a much smaller chance of failure. 

So your milage may vary, but for me? I won’t be buying this again. Not even to soothe a really shitty weekend that brought back way too many feels. 

Russell’s Reserve Rye

Posted on by Eric Burke

The first time I had this whiskey was on my first visit to the Wild Turkey Distillery during my first visit to Kentucky. That’s a lot of firsts to pack into one whiskey. I think back on that visit fondly. It was back when I could visit a major distillery and have samples that I hadn’t tasted before (because I hadn’t tasted that many yet). I’ve been on the Wild Turkey tour a couple more times since and I always make sure I grab a sample of the Russell’s Rye just for old time’s sake.

Fast forward to a couple months ago. I was looking at my editorial calendar trying to plan out what the next month or so of reviews would be when I made a startling discovery. I’d not reviewed any of the Russell’s Reserve line. And even more shocking, I’d never even bought the Rye. For something that has become somewhat of a tradition for me, the thought brought me up a little short. My search for the next new thing had allowed me to pass over this one I enjoyed. For years. That changed. Fast.

Russell’s Reserve Rye

Purchase Info: $32.99, 750 mL. Marketplace Liquors, Savage, MN.

Details: 6 year old. 45% ABV.

Nose: Cheerios cereal, mint, cherry and a hint of cedar.

Mouth: Nice tingle. Flavorful. Mint, clove and oak.

Finish: Cereal, mint and a nice long heat fading to a pleasant bitterness. 

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Thoughts: Though I was surprised by the Cheerios on the nose, it was quickly followed by the more expected mint and wood. I like this rye, it’s got enough heat to keep things interesting and a good minty oak flavor. It’s got a nice finish. The tingle sticks around for a decent amount of time before fading to a bitterness that makes me want to take another sip. The price is good too. Especially since I just saw a bottling of a 7 year old MGP rye going for $90.


Don’t look a gift whiskey in the mouth

Posted on by Eric Burke

My wife’s boss doesn’t drink whiskey. I hear he is a nice enough man and though I’ve never met him, I have a feeling we wouldn’t get along. I’ve heard that there are people out there worth talking to that do not drink whiskey, but I don’t know that I’ve found one. I have a hard enough time understanding folks who prefer scotch to bourbon. But no whiskey at all? That’s kind of a stretch.

Anyway, my wife’s boss received a bottle of whiskey from his daughter-in-law who got it at work. He didn’t want it so he gave it to my wife and I since he knew we liked whiskey. When we first found out he would be doing that, we were appreciative, but joked that it would probably be something like Rebel Yell. Rebel Yell being the only bourbon so bad that I couldn’t finish the bottle. (I’m even finishing the Old Crow!) 

So it was with a bit of amusement that my wife told me as she got home that, “guess what, it really was Rebel Yell.” It’s an interesting feeling being both amused and disappointed. I was as amused as she was. Because “of course it is.” But here’s the thing. As I pulled it out of the bag, I noticed something. I saw that the label had changed, reminding me of a PR email I received.

I get a lot of people asking if I want samples. I always say no even though sometimes it’s hard, knowing I might not get to taste it otherwise. Other times it is really easy. The Rebel Yell email was an easy one. The gist of my response was: “Sorry, already reviewed that one and I wasn’t nice.” I wish I had read the press release a little closer. It seems that Luxco has released a couple more whiskies under the Rebel Yell name. And the gift whiskey I got was one of those. It’s not Rebel Yell Bourbon. It is Rebel Yell American Whiskey: a blend of bourbon and rye whiskey. So I opened it up. And it wasn’t bad.

Which caused something to crystalize in my brain: 

If you’ve never had it, you never know what is going to be in a bottle until you open it. 

It’s simple and sounds obvious once you hear it, but it’s worth reminding ourselves sometimes. Too often we tend to judge a whiskey by what we “know” about it, it’s price or who did or didn’t produce it, instead of what it tastes like. In this case I almost let my preconceptions get in the way of something that seems fairly tasty. I have no idea how long that would have remained on the shelf in the closet if I hadn’t taken a closer look at the new label.

So it seems my wife’s boss and I are cool now (even though we’ve still never met). It seems that having someone in your life who doesn’t drink whiskey is an ok thing. I mean how else would I have gotten free whiskey?

(A more formal review will come once I’ve been able to spend some time with the bottle, but I was reminded of this lesson and felt like sharing.)

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

Posted on by Eric Burke

So. If you were told that in two days you would no longer have a job, what would be the first thing you’d do? For me it was go buy beer. Even though I had been looking to leave for some time, it was still a shock to actually have it happen. It seemed like a beer sort of night because if it had been a bourbon sort of night, I might have needed to call in the next day…

Come to think of it that might have been funny, in hindsight.

But as I always do, I wandered over to the whiskey aisle. And in this case, my wandering was rewarded. You see, sitting about half-way up Total Wine’s Rye section was Crown Royal’s new rye whiskey. I looked at it, looked at my wife, looked back at the shelf, saw there was no price tag, hesitated and then…watched her grab it. 

I love my wife.

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

Purchase Info: $24.99. 750 mL. Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 45% ABV, 90% Rye Whiskey, “Fine Blended Canadian Whiskey”

Nose: Initially it was alcohol, mint, and cedar. After spending a bit of time with it, I was able to also tease out lime zest as well.

Mouth: Tingly. Much more tingle than I would expect to come from Canada. It’s sweet, but not overly so, with mint,  cloves and some grassiness in the mouth.

Finish: Nice and warm. That tingle lasts awhile along with the mint, cedar and cloves.

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Thoughts: I like this one. It’s got an interesting tingle and enough sweetness underneath to make me want to come back again. Toss in those rye notes and you’ve got something well worth the $24-$30 it sells for here in the Twin Cities. Even if you don’t normally like Crown Royal, give this a try.