If you asked a drinker to list some readily available bourbons, chances are they’d have no problem naming individual expressions. Now take that same drinker and ask them to list some readily available wheated bourbons (wheaters). Answers may vary depending on the person and the market they live in, but I’d venture to guess that most would struggle to name a dozen, especially if you limit the number of expressions per distillery. For all the booming popularity that bourbon in general has gone through, distilleries often seem either reluctant or uninterested in producing products that involve wheat as a key ingredient. And it’s a shame. Wheaters—and wheat whiskeys by extension—can make for some mighty delicious pours.
One wheater that’s drawn conflicting opinions on the internet is Rebel (formerly Rebel Yell) from Lux Row, who have been sourcing whiskey up to this point. Although a certain Billy Idol tune is what almost immediately springs to mind for anyone who sees or tries this brand, its history can technically be traced back to the 19th century. Today we’ll be examining the entry-level bottling of this line, an 80 proof bourbon with a price tag of up to $20. Will it prove to be a worthy consideration in the limited space of wheaters? Let’s find out.
Nose: Closed off. Pale impressions of vanilla and slightly sweet, young grain. Has that ethanol presence typical of low proof bottom-shelfers. Stale honey wheat bread with some citric astringency. Light, muted, and mostly unenticing.
Palate: Light, watery, and young. Barely sweetened cereal with a meager degree of light brown sugar and graham crackers. Whatever sweetness is present quickly gets taken over by grains and a taunting bitter essence that fades after a few seconds.
Finish: Borderline nonexistent. Has a barely flavored graininess that brings neutral grain spirit to mind.
To immediately answer the above question, no. Rebel at 80 proof doesn’t even come close to holding its own, and I’m not even strictly talking about compared to other wheaters. I understand as much as the next person that context and perspective are important, which means holding Rebel to the same standard as Maker’s Mark is somewhat unfair. However, when I find myself thinking that a bottle of Jim Beam White would serve me better, that says something. Those in the market for a decent, potentially budget-oriented wheated bourbon will do better spending a bit extra for something else. If wheat isn’t a requirement, then your options become that much more numerous. And preferable.