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Old Crow Reserve vs. Rebel Yell, Round 1, Bottom Shelf Bourbon Brackets

Posted on by Eric Burke

Round 1d of the Bottom Shelf Bourbon Brackets features a couple of old names that have fallen on a few hard times. The number 2 seed of division 2: Old Crow Reserve is facing off against number 3 seed: Rebel Yell. 

Old Crow Reserve. I’ve been curious about Old Crow ever since I went back home to the backwoods of Wisconsin and saw it was the only bourbon in the bar. I’d have gone beer, but this particular dance hall had three kinds of Miller on tap and the keg of Old Style that the groom’s family had purchased for the guests to drink. Not only did I not want any of those, but I wasn’t quite sure when the last time the lines were cleaned since this particular place is mostly used for weddings. So I went with the Old Crow. I ordered it neat, because I didn’t really trust the cocktail skills of the bartender. She didn’t now what neat meant so I was probably correct there. But, I didn’t hate it. In fact I liked it better than the Beam White I found later in the evening by wandering across the street to a liquor store that was sadly lacking in 50mL minis that I could sneak back in.

The only thing I’d heard about Rebel Yell was the statement “I hear the Reserve isn’t bad.” I’d hear that statement every time I mentioned that I’d slated it for inclusion in this tournament. No one knew anything else. And it seemed no one had tasted either the Reserve or the regular release. So, I read the bottle and by reading the label I learned that it is a wheater and that it is: “Unique. Commanding. Unforgettable.” After a bit of internet searching, I learned this is an old brand once produced by Pappy Van Winkle himself. The forum posters claim that if you find old bottles of it, it’s kinda one-note, but not bad. These days it’s a sold by Luxco out of St. Louis. No one mentions what it’s like now.

Old Crow Reserve

Purchase Info: Haskell’s Wine & Spirits, Burnsville, MN $16.99 for a 1L

Stated Age: Four years

ABV: 43%

Produced by: Jim Beam

Nose: Rubbing alcohol right at first. But that dissipates: fresh sawn lumber. Dry with just a hint of caramel, mint and orange peel.

Mouth: Maple syrup and black pepper. Hints of vegetal and soapy flavors.

Finish: Some heat. Spiced honey. Transitions to bitterness. 

Thoughts: Not one I feel like I’d grab first. If I was in a bar that had it, I’d pick it over Beam White and not feel too bad about the selection. But I might ask for it on the rocks.  

Rebel Yell

Purchase Info: Blue Max, Burnsville, MN $11.78 for a 750 mL

Stated Age: NAS 

ABV: 40%

Sourced/Sold by: Luxco

Nose: Dried Corn, Orange Peel, Caramel 

Mouth: Watery mouthfeel. Dried corn. Hints of vinegar. Unpleasant.

Finish: Decent but not overpowering burn. Grain and a nice bitterness.

Thoughts: I have no idea what I will do with this bottle, but I certainly won’t be drinking it. The finish is nice, but the taste and nose are not pleasant at all. My wife has been bugging me to give her bourbon to use in a homemade bug repellant recipe. This might be fine for that. 

Winner: Old Crow Reserve doesn’t win this one quite as much as Rebel Yell loses it. To say it was a favorable matchup is being nice. Rebel Yell might give Town Branch a run for the title of worst bourbon I’ve tasted. It lives up to the “Unique” and the “Unforgettable” that the label promised. But not in a good way. So by process of elimination Old Crow Reserve wins. We’ll see how it does in the next round before I say if I like it or not.