what is the difference between rye and bourbon whiskey

Whiskey shopping can be intimidating, especially for novice spirit drinkers. Also, it is easy to become confused by the different labels, especially rye and bourbon. Rye and bourbon are the two more popular types of whiskey made and sold in the United States. To differentiate between the two, you must first understand how whiskey is made and what separates rye and bourbon from one another.

The Process of Making American Whiskey

All whiskeys are made from fermented grain mash, whether is it barley, rye, corn, or other grain of choice. The mash bill refers to the mash mixture because most distilleries will use two to three mashes in their whiskey.

The mash is then heated with water to create a fermentation that releases the alcohol content of the grain. Then, these products are distilled to remove the mash from the spirit and placed into wooden casks, where they store until they are aged to the maker’s preference.

Bourbon and rye are different from one another because of the mash bill used to make them and the type of casks they are stored in. While subtle, these changes make each spirit have very distinct flavors.

What is the Difference Between Bourbon and Rye Whiskey?

When comparing bourbon to rye, there are a few distinct differences to note:

  • Location: To be labeled a bourbon in the United States, it must be made in the US. Whiskey, including rye whiskey, can be made in other countries. However, it cannot be labeled as a bourbon.
  • Mash Bill: The mash bill for a bourbon must contain a minimum of 51% corn to be labeled as a “bourbon” in the United States. A rye whiskey, on the other hand, must have a 51% rye mash bill to be called a rye whiskey. Most rye whiskeys are 95 to 100% rye for authentic flavor.
  • Aging: Both bourbon and rye whiskey must be aged a minimum of two years before they can be labeled as a “straight bourbon” or “straight rye.”
  • Flavor Differences: The flavor differences will come down to the ingredients. A corn mash used in bourbon will create a sweeter, full-bodied flavor. The rye mash in a rye whiskey, however, makes it spicier and it has a drier aftertaste than bourbon. Also, an aged bourbon does not develop as many flavor profiles as an aged rye whiskey. When sipping on a bourbon, you can differentiate the flavors much easier because of the consistency and sweetness. Rye is very intense; therefore, the characters develop as you allow the whiskey to rest on the tongue and the finishing flavors of rye whiskey are stronger than that of a bourbon.

The Types of Rye Whiskey

There are two types of rye whiskey frequently sold in the United States, which are American Rye and Canadian Rye. American rye is heavily regulated but offers more consistent quality and flavor.

Canadian rye, on the other hand, does not have the same regulations; therefore, you may notice that they are not as uniform.

Types of Bourbon

Just like rye, there are different types of bourbons. The Tennessee whiskey is a straight bourbon that runs through a charcoal filter before it is aged in the cask. This creates intense smoky flavors in the whiskey.

A traditional bourbon is one made from 70% corn, 15% rye, and 15% barley. It is the more familiar style of bourbon, and some of the more popular brands like Jim Beam and Wild Turkey are traditional bourbons.

There is also a high rye bourbon, which has a high concentration of rye, and the high wheat bourbon, which uses more wheat in the mash.

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