Review: Rebel Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Ah, the heritage of the old south—the honored past of the war of Northern aggression and, antebellum, the peaceful pastoral days of the plantation.  For some reason this myth of the noble old south somehow pervades, perpetuated by Rhett Butler’s mustache, Aunt Jemima and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  While debates still rage over the appropriateness of the use of the Confederate flag, other parts of the heritage of the American Civil War find their way into brand labeling.  600,000 Americans died during the war, and yet the imagery of the confederacy is a marketing tool. In the whiskey world, this heritage is sold under the “Rebel Yell” label, and associated, the whiskey I’m drinking tonight: Rebel Reserve.  Rebel Yell takes its name from the ragged battle hollers that confederate soldiers used to muster their courage and strike fear into the hearts of their enemy.  I have nothing against the soldiers of the Confederacy, most of them poor, not slave owning, and fighting for their homes. I just think it’s a bit strange to name a whiskey after the last noises people made before they were likely bayoneted.  Still, I suppose it’s better than the extreme racism that was used to sell products up until, well, Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima.  Oh, that’s right; we still have branding based on racial stereotypes.

Anyways, you’re here to read about whiskey, and as always I’ve babbled incoherently for a paragraph.  Rebel Reserve is the premium version of the decidedly not-premium Rebel Yell.  Regular Rebel Yell is quite cheap and, I must admit, rather aptly named.  It’s untamed, hot and perhaps may induce a yelp.  It, like the yells of the rebels long ago, may also lead to you waking up with a leather belt in your mouth and a stub for a leg, if you drink enough of it.  It’s probably a good thing then that Rebel Reserve is a bit more refined, like Butler’s gentry accent.  It weighs in at a not unreasonable 90.6 proof, but unlike its cracker cousin it has a bit more balance that keeps that from eating away your vocal chords.  While the firey nose hides much of this whiskey’s aroma, the whiskey settles down on the palate to reveal an almost chewy caramel quality, some of the sweetness of the wheat in it, and something a bit darker I can’t quite pinpoint.  Maybe almost raisin-like?  The finish of this coats the palate and lingers warmly, with a slightly astringent flavor left as it dries my tongue, though that could be from my dinner.  This certainly isn’t a bad whiskey, and is a nice step-up from that crazy cousin, but it’s not exactly a standout.  Of course, for about $20 for a bottle of small batch bourbon in a numbered bottle, you aren’t going to get something outstanding.  In fact, I think that’s the problem.  This is budget bourbon brands attempt to make an upgraded product with premium marketing at a mid-range price.  So to attempt to make my metaphor work, this bourbon is a bit like Rhett Butler, polished up like the southern gentry, but still crude enough to own slaves.  I suspect this may be a bit of a controversial post…Image

Review: Slow & Low Rock and Rye

Rock and Rye: Sounds sexy. Like rock ‘n’ roll with distilled grains.  My first impression of the idea was less than enthusiastic though, conjuring the half-memories of several botched attempts at surviving other flavored whiskey type beverages.  Notice: That is not what Slow & Low is.  Slow & Low is basically a well-crafted old fashioned that’s brewed and stewed together then allowed to mingle in the bottle until you buy it.  Drink Spirits recently gave a glowing review of Mr. Boston’s Rock and Rye.  I’ve never had it, but I hazard to guess this is better.  Here’s the rundown:  a company called Hochstadter’s in Philly has been making this stuff since 1884, and it appears they’ve perfected the recipe. Take rye whiskey, raw (local) honey, dried navel oranges, maybe some bitters.  Stew slow and low.  The brands funky website tells you a bit more about this, about how the original rock and rye was rye with rock candy in it, how they’ve determined 5% sugar content makes the perfect old fashioned, etc.  Regardless of all the stats, it’s good—but I’ll get back to that in a bit.

Looking at the website struck me with something else about Slow & Low.  What was interesting to me was how Hochstadter’s has marketed this product.  The bottle itself was pretty average for whiskey, taking style cues from Jack Daniel’s.  The website is a montage of rockabilly style tattoos that serve as links, some to quick facts, some to pictures of chicks and cars and the like.  Their Facebook page is similar.  There’s also a newsletter thing on their website written in Kerouacian spontaneous prose, and here’s where my point is most clear.  This stuff is marketing a lifestyle, to a lifestyle.  Tattoo iconography, risqué pictures of women with guns, cars, guitars, motorcycles, rock ‘n’ roll, good whiskey and good times.  There’s freakin’ side boob and motorcycles inside the label. The message is pretty clear: this isn’t adult chocolate milk or bubble gum vodka—this is quality booze for your discerning rebel with a taste for the vintage.  It’s history in a bottle that’s not afraid to change the recipe, because vintage is cool but we’re rebels, we do what we want.   I think Slow & Low’s marketing team has nailed it.  Rye is in a renaissance, but as I stated before rock and rye doesn’t conjure ideas of a complicated and crafty beverage—it reminds you of that time you had too much Red Stag or So Co and woke up with a bad taste in your mouth, a sore throat and the shame of knowing that what you may have did is possibly worse than what you remember doing.  Slow & Low’s marketing doesn’t conjure any of that, it tells you you’re about to drink something that’s made from quality ingredients for badasses who really know how to have a good time in style.


Classic good looks

I mentioned before that this is good.  Let’s get back to that because we’re too cool to be taken in by marketing, no matter how great those Dos Equis commercials are.  Slow and low is basically a good old fashioned in a bottle.  The nose is a bit of rye spice with a sweet smell of orange zest.  I’m drinking the signature Slow and Low cocktail, in their words “Pour 1 part Slow & Low into a glass. Top with another part Slow & Low. Drink. Repeat.”  The mouth is soft with the sweetness of the honey slightly coating the tongue, but allowing the smooth rye to show itself.  All the ingredients have melded and mellowed—the citrus isn’t tart, the honey not cloying, and the rye isn’t particularly hot or spicy.  This is a well-balanced drink that works neat or over ice, you could even add a cherry if you want a bar-style old fashioned. You don’t have to be a rebel to drink this, you just need good taste.

To the One Job I Ever Quit

“Fuck sleep.”
I said, as I poured another dram.
At 7 am I’ll roll onto my feet,
stumbling for awareness
hands feeling for my glasses
that won’t clear the sting–
of morning.
Tomorrow, I sip,
I am professional antagonist.
I harass, annoy, even frighten.
No, I am not a cop,
I am a marketer.
And I hate me too.

Farewell, midnight’s morals.
Farewell, dignity.
I am a broken man,
And work is all I need.