Articles, Beverages

Rye Whiskey vs. Bourbon (What’s the Difference?)

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between rye whiskey vs. bourbon? For many of us, the difference between these two spirits is a bit blurry. 

Both beverages are featured in several songs, have similar ingredients, and have overlapping flavor profiles. Despite this, each one offers something unique.

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Rye Whiskey vs. Bourbon (What's the Difference?) featuring Boozy Bourbon Whiskey with Mint Leaves Over Ice

From their ingredients to their productions to their varieties, you’ll discover fascinating differences.

Learn to appreciate these nuanced libations, and you’ll open up a world of taste sensations. Because both spirits make for some delicious cocktails! 

And they’re pretty tasty straight-up, too. 

Ready? Discover the difference between rye whiskey vs. bourbon! 

Rye Whiskey vs. Bourbon (What’s the Difference?)

Ingredients

Both drinks are made with similar ingredients. But the ratios are where they differ. 

  • Rye Whiskey: Imagine rye whiskey as bourbon’s spicy cousin. It contains at least 51% rye grain in its recipe. The rest can be a mix of other grains like malted barley or corn.
  • Bourbon: Bourbon is made with a 51% corn mash bill.* The remaining grains might include rye, malted barley, or wheat.

*NOTE: A “mash bill” is the combination of grains used in a distiller’s recipe. This term will be used throughout the article.

Flavor Profile

  • Rye whiskey: Rye whiskeys have a bold, spicy kick, with flavors like pepper, baking spices, and herbs. It has fruity notes that complement the peppery bite.
  • Bourbon: Bourbons are sweeter and smoother, with yummy notes of caramel, vanilla, and oak. It has a touch of subtle fruitiness and spice for a bit of kick.

Production

  • Rye Whiskey: Rye whiskey is aged in freshly charred oak barrels. The result is its rich amber color and additional spicy flavor.
  • Bourbon: Compared to rye whiskey, bourbon is aged in used oak barrels for 2 to 10 years.

Distillation

  • Rye Whiskey: This drink is distilled at a lower proof than bourbon. The result? More of the spicy and flavorful goodness from the rye grain makes it into the final product. 
  • Bourbon:  Bourbon is distilled at a higher proof compared to rye grain. So, fewer tasty compounds from the corn grain are carried over into the final product. Also, the higher proof means that bourbon is stronger. 
Whiskey on the Rocks on a Glass

What Is Rye Whiskey?

Rye whiskey is the drink for bold flavor-adventurers exploring new sensations. 

Its spicy and dry finish will take your taste buds on a wild ride. It’s aged in charred-oak barrels giving hints of savory, earthy, and smoky flavors. 

The mash must have at least 51% rye to call it Rye Whiskey. The rest of the mash can comprise other grains, such as corn or barley.

Depending on the other grains, the rye whiskey could be sweeter. It could also be more savory. 

And the best part? This bold, sophisticated drink is perfect whether sipped neat or mixed in cocktails.

So why not take a sip and join in on the fun? Cheers!

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Types of Rye

1. American Rye

American rye whiskey must be made from at least 51% rye grain. It has a spicy and slightly bitter flavor profile with a distinctive kick.

What makes American rye stand out is how it’s made. The rye and other grains are mashed, distilled, and aged simultaneously. 

It results in a bold, peppery zing and a deep amber color that captivates your senses.

Some popular brands of American rye whiskey include Rittenhouse, Bulleit, and WhistlePig. But there are plenty of other great options out there to discover.

2. Canadian Rye

Canadian rye is the way to go if you’re looking for smoother, lighter rye whiskey!

Compared to American rye, Canadian distillers have a different way of producing this drink.

It’s made by mashing, fermenting, distilling, and aging each type of grain separately.

This type of rye requires at least three years of maturation in new oak barrels.

Bourbon Whiskey on a Glass and Bottle

What is Bourbon?

Bourbon is like the cool, laid-back cousin of rye whiskey. Its mash bill is made primarily from corn, giving it a sweet and smooth flavor.

Plus, it has hints of oak, vanilla, and caramel.

The rest of the mash bill is usually made up of rye, malted barley, or wheat. It gives bourbon its signature smooth, full-bodied flavor depth.

And, of course, bourbon gets better with age, like all good things in life. The longer it’s aged, the more nuanced and complex the flavors become.

But bourbon isn’t just for sipping neat! It’s a versatile spirit that you can use in various cocktails. 

From the classic Old Fashioned to trendy cocktails, this drink promises a delightful sipping experience.

Types of Bourbon

1. Traditional

The secret of traditional bourbon is all about the corn! We’re talking at least 51% corn. The rest of the mash bill is divided between different grains.

And sometimes the corn ratio is cranked up even higher – up to 75%. The result is a sweeter, smoother drink for an easy sipping experience.

2. High-Rye

Are you looking for extra heat, but you’re not ready to go full rye whiskey? High-rye bourbon might just be your new best friend.

It’s made like any other bourbon, with at least 51% corn. But the real kicker is the higher proportion of rye in the mash bill.

It has 25% rye mixed into the mash bill, giving it that unmistakable spicy kick.

3. Wheated

This stuff is the real deal, with a flavor profile of mellow, honeyed vibes. 

The secret is wheat in the mash bill. Wheated bourbon still has at least 51% corn- like all good bourbons. But it uses wheat as the prominent flavoring grain. 

And the result? You get all the goodness of bourbon without the spicy kick of rye!

This drink is perfect for those who like an easy drink.

Two Glasses Bourbon Over Ice on a Black Wooden Table with a Bottle of Bourbon on Its Side in the Background

Choosing Between Rye Whisky and Bourbon

Choosing between rye whiskey and bourbon ultimately comes down to preference. 

Let’s start with rye whiskey – this spicy, dry drink is like a thrill ride for your palate. It’s bold, it’s robust, and it’s not afraid to make a statement.

But if you’re looking for something chill and easy to drink, bourbon is for you!

With its sweeter, smoother flavor, bourbon is like a warm hug from an old friend. This drink is perfect for those who want a mellow and approachable taste.

Rye Whiskey vs. Bourbon