Don’t sleep on this wheated bourbon with Stitzel-Weller lineage.
Rebel Yell Bourbon is often left out of the wheated discussion. It is a borderline value brand and may not be among your first choices in bourbon selections unless you are the most ardent of bargain hunters.
Yet, it is a wheated bourbon originally created by the Stitzel-Weller Distilling Co. — which means it shares an origin story with the ‘unicorn’ brand Pappy Van Winkle. But at $15 a bottle and national distribution, it is undoubtedly a lot easier to get your hands on a bottle of Ol’ Rebel.
So, let’s take a look at this old timer and see what’s in that bottle.
Note: Luxco recently changed the brand’s name from ‘Rebel Yell’ Bourbon to ‘Rebel’ Bourbon. This change is still being implemented on retail shelves. So, to prevent further confusion as to whether these are the same brand, we’ve used the name interchangeably throughout this post.
The Rebel Yell brand was created in 1950 by a politician in Kentucky — a fascinating peek into the region’s politics of the time. Despite not having any background in whiskey, Charles R. Farnsley — the former mayor of Louisville — created the brand to commemorate the centenary of the Stitzel-Weller distillery. It was meant to target markets in the South, and the Rebel Yell name harkened to the Confederate Army during the Civil War. When it was launched, it was only available south of the Mason-Dixon line.
In 1972, the Stitzel-Weller Distillery went out of business. The brand bounced ownership, eventually landing in the Diageo portfolio. In 1984, the brand enjoyed nationwide distribution on the back of the Billy Idol song, which — according to legend — was about a rowdy night fueled by Rebel Yell Bourbon. It was also a favorite of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. In 1999, the brand made its way to the portfolio of the David Sherman Corporation — rebranded as Luxco in 2006.
For most of its existence, Luxco was a non-distillery producer — or NDP — which meant they did not own a distillery. Rebel Yell whiskey was mashed, distilled and barreled at another facility. Barrels were most likely transferred to the Luxco facility, where they were bottled and shipped to market.
NDPs don’t often disclose the source whiskey for their brands. But for a while, it was common knowledge the main supplier was Heaven Hill. However, the Stitzel-Weller’s original Rebel Yell bourbon recipe — which contained wheat instead of rye — remained the same.
In 2018, Luxco opened its own distillery named Lux Row in honor of the long tree-lined drive that leads to the facility. In January 2021, Luxco was acquired by Midwest Grain Processors — MGP — the country’s largest third-party producer of sourced whiskey products.
Recently, the brand dropped the word ‘Yell’ from the name, which means that you may currently find bottles with either ‘Rebel Yell’ or ‘Rebel Bourbon’ on shelves.
This may be one of the most underappreciated wheated bourbons available. Despite having the vaulted ‘Stitzel-Weller’ background, Rebel Bourbon is often left out of the conversation when considering wheaters.
Wheated bourbon tends to cause confusion, especially with newcomers to the American whiskey category. Like all bourbon, wheated bourbons are still required to contain at least 51 percent corn in the mashbill. However, while traditional bourbons contain wheat as the flavoring grain, distillers who make wheated bourbon swap the more traditional spicy rye grain for the soft and smooth wheat in the mash bill or list of grain ingredients.
Rebel Bourbon has a mash bill of 68 percent corn, 20 percent wheat and 12 percent malted barley.
Distillation & Production
In 2016, construction on the brand new Lux Row Distillery was begun. The Lux Row Distillery filled its first barrel three years later, in January 2018. Today, the production of Rebel Yell Bourbon takes place at the brand new distillery.
Before the Lux Row facility was online, Luxco was a non-distiller producer — or NDP. For decades before building its own distillery it sourced whiskey from other producers based in Kentucky.
The Lux Row Distillery is moderately sized compared to the big boys throughout the state. Its 36-inch continuous column still has a capacity to produce 50,000 barrels or about 3.25 million proof gallons of bourbon per year.
After the whiskey has been mashed, fermented and distilled, bourbon must be matured in new American oak barrels according to U.S. regulations.
As a no age statement — or NAS — whiskey, Rebel Bourbon does not disclose the age of the barrels used for each batch. However, by carrying the term ‘Straight Bourbon’ on the label, the youngest barrel in each batch’s blend must be aged for a minimum of two years in new oak. And since there is no statement of age, we know the whiskey is almost certainly four years old.
Rebel Yell whiskey is matured in No. 3 charred oak barrels.
Because the Lux Row Distillers facility was not operational until 2018, we can assume all or most of the whiskey in the most recent batch currently on store shelves was produced elsewhere — either at a Heaven Hill distillery or another unnamed Kentucky supplier.
The Lux Row facility has seven barrel warehouses, each with a 20,000 barrel capacity.
Ownership & Brand Extensions
Rebel Yell whiskey is produced by Luxco. Luxco was a relatively small NDP and rectifier. Their most well-known brand might be Everclear, which is a high-proof neutral grain spirit made from corn
In April 2021, Luxco was acquired by Midwest Grain Processor, more commonly known in the industry as MGP.
In addition to the flagship Rebel Bourbon, there are multiple line extensions to the Rebel Yell bourbon family.
Rebel 100 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a 100-proof wheated ‘bonded style’ bourbon that retails for about $20 for a 750mL bottle.
Rebel Rye is a rye whiskey priced at about $25 for a 750mL bottle.
Luxco recently released a Rebel 10 Year Single Barrel Bourbon. The offering has gained a lot of media attention, being named World’s Best Single Barrel and Best Kentucky Single Barrel of 2020 by Whisky Magazine and Whisky Advocate’s 2017 Top 20 list at No. 17. Perhaps as a result, availability is limited, and prices may vary.
Numerous 4-year Distiller’s Collection Single Barrel offerings are also available under the Rebel Yell Bourbon name – prices also vary as they are often bottled for specific retailers and available in limited quantities. These bottles may appeal to those looking for a private-label wheated bourbon experience.
Other brands produced by Luxco include Ezra Brooks, David Nicholson and Blood Oath. The Yellow Stone brand was discontinued in 2015. At one time, Rebel Yell Honey whiskey and Rebel Yell Cherry whiskey versions were available, but they are no longer represented on the company’s website.
Price Point & Value
Rebel Yell Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey has a retail price of about $16 for a 750mL bottle at 80-proof. This price point places Rebel whiskey in the low end of the standard segment.
When compared to the lineup of other wheated bourbons, that price is hard to beat. Some examples of other wheated bourbon products include Maker’s Mark, Larceny, and W.L. Weller. Each costs about $27 for a 750mL bottle. Old Fitzgerald has a retail price of about $15 per 750mL bottle, but its small allocation makes it incredibly hard to find on a retail shelf.
So, if you’re new to the bourbon category and want to try a wheated bourbon drinking experience without taking a hit in your wallet, Rebel Bourbon is a great starter brand to give a try.
Let’s be honest — we’re talking about a $15 bottle of bourbon. Bourbon aficionados may consider the whiskey a little hot when tasted neat in or in a snifter. It might not be an everyday sipper.
But as far as affordable bourbon options, Rebel whiskey offers a great learning opportunity. It’s perhaps one of the most easily attainable bottles of wheated bourbons in the United States, a perfect opportunity to dip your toes into the category. Add a couple of ice cubes or pour it into a cocktail as a base spirit bourbon, and you may have yourself a genuine deal.