It was the ugliest sound that any mortal ever heard—even a mortal exhausted and unnerved by two days of hard fighting, without sleep, without rest, without food and without hope.
- Ambrose Bierce, “A Little of Chickamauga” (1898)
The “rebel yell” was a sound made by Southern soldiers before engaging in battle. The American Civil War, unlike most wars, was a necessary war. It put an end to humans owning other humans in North America, but the price paid, by both sides, was staggering. The South lost nearly a quarter of their white male population. The story of those who lose is rarely told well in history books. Like in the movies, once the “good guys” win, the opposition seems to drift off into the background. In real life, they go home to a world shattered into a million pieces. All the sacrifice, all the loss, all for nothing. You may not like what they were fighting for, but surely you can understand why Southerners found it hard to “move on” once the war came to an end.
To look back nostalgically means to fondly recall something from the past. The horrors of war tend to be reserved for the attic of the mind. The rebel yell, on the other hand, was a source of Southern pride. It was done when moving forward, and when you’re moving forward, you’re not retreating. Rebel Yell whiskey was launched in the 1930s, shortly after Prohibition was repealed. It started off as a private brand made exclusively for Charles Farnsley, the mayor of Louisville, Kentucky. He used it to curry favour with state legislators. Farnsley wanted to release another whiskey called “Damn Yankee,” but the Alcohol Bureau rejected the name for being too distasteful. His resubmitted name was hilarious, “Old Bad Taste.” Current owners Luxco bought Rebel Yell from perennial bad boy (in my work) Diageo in 1999. A couple years ago, they dropped the word “Yell” from the name. It’s now “Rebel” bourbon.
Luxco has been a non-producer distiller since the 1950s. Non-producer distiller means they get someone to make their whiskey for them. Not anymore (kinda). Luxco (Lux Row) started making whiskey at their own distillery in 2018. It’s 2023, so that means Rebel 10 was made somewhere else. Your guess is as good as mine. Most whiskies are a vatting of multiple barrels, Rebel 10 is a single barrel product. My bottle, which I bought with my own money, was filled in March of 2010. The “Since 1849” on the label is pure nonsense. Rebel was once a Stitzel-Weller product, and W.L. Weller started blending whiskey in 1849 (more on that another time). Rebel 10 is sweet, fruity, and fragrant. Roadside fruit stand. Juicy Fruit gum. The oak is definitely there, 10 years is close to retirement in bourbon years, but it’s not overwhelming. Nice viscosity. This is a solid product.
There are people out there who think all things Confederate (the South) should be eradicated from existence, but if we wipe clean the slate of history, we also remove any chance to learn from it. One more thing. Giving the ills of the past an icy stare with modern-day eyes doesn’t make you courageous. If you were a white male living in the South when the Civil War broke out, who knows what you would’ve done? The 2023 you would never fight to defend slavery, but that wouldn’t be you. There’s an excellent chance, 100 years from now, people will find some of the things we do on a regular basis reprehensible. Luxco’s slogan for Rebel Yell before the name change was, “Never go quietly.” They should’ve heeded their own advice.