Rye vs Bourbon: The Main Differences Between (With 2019 Recommendations!)

If you are not familiar with whiskey, then you might feel a little intimidated or overwhelmed when looking to try something new. For those of us who have been drinking whiskey for years, it is something that we tend to take pretty seriously.

One thing that you have to keep in mind is that it depends on the person drinking the whiskey and where they are from when they are deciding if whiskey is good or not. Many people around the world prefer rye while many in the United States prefer bourbon. Since these are the two most popular types of whiskey, we wanted to share with you our thoughts and some information to help you determine the best choices for yourself and possibly your next event.

There are a few subtle differences between rye whiskey and bourbon and once you are able to find these, you will be able to really create the perfect craft cocktail that will impress even the most seasoned connoisseur.

How is Whiskey Made?

whiskey bottle

The first question that you should know the answer to is how is whiskey made. Whiskey is made during a process where you distill a fermented grain mash. The mash is made out of malt barley and other grains, which you get to pick. The mash bill is the combination of different grains that are used. Water is added to the mixture and it is heated. This process creates the sugars that ferment and turn into alcohol.

From here the mix is distilled. During distilling, certain parts of the liquid are evaporated selectively. This separates the alcohol from the mash. It is then stored in wooden casks so that it can be aged to perfection.

There are different types of whiskey which are based upon the grains that are used, the type of distilling process, the wood that the cask is made out of, and how long the liquor is aged. Changes in any of these will create different flavor profiles and will impact the overall product that you have in the end. Since everyone has different tastes, it seems that each individual might have a preference as to the materials and styles.

A Little About Rye

rye

Rye whiskey is very similar to bourbon. The biggest difference is that it is made from 51% rye instead of 51% corn. The rest of the mixture in the mash is made from corn and/or barley. There are some rye whiskeys that are made with 95% to 100% rye. The production guidelines in the United States are the same as with bourbon. Straight rye whiskey also has to be aged two years to earn the straight label.

Types of Rye Whiskey

In the United States, rye is not as developed of a market as bourbon is. There are different types of rye whiskey, all of which is determined by the combination of rye and different grains that make up the mash bill. There are two main types of rye whiskey.

American Rye

American Rye is a rye whiskey that is formed as stated above. This is the type of rye whiskey that is known for consistency and quality. Plus, it is very easy to find.

Canadian Rye

Canadian Rye is a little more of an open term. There is no law that regulates Canadian rye. This means that they can make the whiskey from anything with rye and still call it rye, even if it would not be labeled as rye in the United States. In fact, most of the Canadian Ryes have just a little bit of rye and are made up of mostly (or in some cases all) corn in the mash bill. In fact, in Canada, rye is actually used as a synonym for Canadian made whiskey.

Flavor Profile

Rye whiskey has a full flavor. It has spicy tones and more of a dry taste. As rye ages it becomes more subtle, but it does not lose its kick. Rye whiskey tends to have a more intense flavor that continues to develop on the palate.

Features

  • Has a mash bill that is made up of at least 51% rye.

  • Mash bill can be up to 100% rye.

  • If produced in the United States, it has to be at least 51% rye, but in Canada, there are no regulations.

  • Offers drinkers a spicy, fruity flavor that is unlike what other whiskeys offer.

Favorite Bottles of Rye

If you have now decided that you would like to start drinking rye whiskey and you have no idea where to begin, there are a few bottles that we can be sure that you’d be happy with.

Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey 

 

Image result for old overholt straight rye whiskey

Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey is one of the most popular bottles of rye whiskey on the market today. Some argue that it is one of the best. One surprising fact about this rye is that it is not going to set you back much and you can easily find it for under $20 per bottle. Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey features the forward scent of spices and a nice afternote of vanilla. There is a slight pepperiness and the notes of delicious tender orchard fruits.

Templeton Rye “The Good Stuff” Rye Whiskey 

Image result for templeton Rye "The Good Stuff" rye whiskey

Templeton Rye “The Good Stuff” Rye Whiskey has a unique history. It has been distilled in Templeton, Iowa since the days of Prohibition. In fact, when it was distilled during these years, it was known as “The Good Stuff” which is where the name originates from. One of the things that is unique about Templeton Rye “The Good Stuff” Rye Whiskey is that it has a 95% rye mash bill. There is a grassiness and a spicy flavor that rolls through the whiskey as you take a drink. It is balanced with a fruity flavor and a fudginess.

Bulleit “95” Rye Small Batch Frontier Whiskey 

 

Image result for bulleit "95" rye

The Bulleit brand has been recognized and noted as being some of the best whiskey in the world. Their rye, the Bulleit “95” Rye Small Batch Frontier Whiskey is no different. This whiskey features 95% rye in the mash bill, which you could have probably guessed from the name. This is definitely a whiskey worth noting since it seems to rate a cut above the rest from most rye drinkers. It has a round, rich fruity flavor that you get from the start. There is a weird palate that is softer than most and features citrus and oak. It has a nice sweetness that is at the forefront, but you still get that burn that you expect with a rye whiskey.

Rittenhouse 100 Proof Bottled In Bond Rye Whiskey

Image result for rittenhouse 100 proof bottled in bond rye whiskey

Rittenhouse 100 Proof Bottled in Bond Rye Whiskey is made in the unique Monongahela style. The style name comes from the Monongahela River where it was distilled in this unique fashion since the time of Prohibition. This is another bottle of whiskey that has a lower price point and is very affordable. There is a nice dark fruit top note that allows for the spicy notes to linger and develop on the palate. After that, there are hints of honey and vanilla top notes that bring this whiskey to a palate-cleansing finish.

Redemption Barrel Proof Straight Rye Whiskey 

 

Image result for redemption barrel proof straight rye whiskey

One of the things that you should first note about Redemption Barrel Proof Straight Rye Whiskey is that it is going to have a higher proof than most. This is due to the fact that the whiskey does not go through the process of being watered down to achieve a lower proof before bottling. This offers you a lot of additional heat in your glass. The alcohol content in this rye whiskey is 60% and it features a 95% rye mash bill. There are flavors of fruit, spice, and drying oak. The flavors compete a bit and you up with a sweetness that really matches up with the heat.

Pros of Rye

  • Rye whiskey is affordable, many bottles are less than $20 and are still good.

  • Rye whiskey offers you a flavor profile that you can expect. It will have the sweetness of fruits combined with a spice and pepper flavor.

  • Easy to find and readily available.

  • American rye has standards to ensure that you know what you are getting.

Cons of Rye

  • Canadian rye has no standards, so it can be confusing when you are looking for rye whiskey.

  • It has a higher level of heat and really “burns” when you are drinking it.

  • Not all rye is created equal and finding a second bottle that you love after falling in love with one can be tough.

A Few Rye Drink Recipes

We could not leave you without offering some of the best drink recipes for rye whiskey. Making a rye whiskey cocktail that you will love is a great way to start your rye whiskey drinking adventures.

Christmas Old Fashioned

rye cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 3 cranberries
  • Orange Wedge
  • 3 ounces of rye whiskey
  • 1-ounce cranberry simple syrup
  • 2 dashes of bitters
  • Sugar
  • Ice

Directions:

Mix together the rye whiskey, cranberry simple syrup, and bitters in a shaker and shake. Before pouring into the glass, sugar the rim and fill the glass with ice. Pour the cocktail over ice and garnish with an orange wedge and the three cranberries on a cocktail pick.

Whiskey Seduction

red cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • ¾ ounce red wine, we suggest pinot noir
  • ½ ounce black currant liqueur
  • ½ ounce fresh lemon juice
  • Curled lemon peel

Directions:

Take a cocktail shaker filled with ice and combine rye whiskey, wine, liquor, and lemon juice. Shake well and then pour over ice in a rocks glass. Slightly squeeze the lemon peel to get the essential oils flowing and rub this around the rim of the glass. Finish the cocktail by floating the lemon peel on top.

Roasted Orange and Rye Whiskey

orange cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 1 orange
  • 2 ounces of rye whiskey
  • Dash of orange bitters
  • Ice
  • Fresh rosemary sprig

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut your orange in half. Place orange halves on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast them for 25 minutes. Place under the broiler for 5 minutes. Squeeze the orange to get about 3 ounces of juice. In a shaker combine the juice, whiskey, and bitters. Shake until well combined for at least ten seconds. Strain in a glass over ice and garnish with the rosemary sprig.

The Boulevardier

The Boulevardier 

Ingredients:

  • 1-ounce Campari
  • 1-ounce sweet vermouth
  • 1 ¼ ounce rye whiskey
  • Orange peel twist

Directions:

Combine ice, Campari, sweet vermouth, and rye whiskey in a shaker. Strain and pour into a martini glass. Squeeze the orange peel to release the oils and then rub around the rim of the glass before placing the twist into the cocktail.

Escape from Alcatraz Cocktail

escape from alcatraz

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • 3 slices orange
  • ½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 ounce Cointreau
  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • Ice cubes

Directions:

Muddle the orange slices, ginger, and lemon juice in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add the Cointreau and whiskey into the shaker glass. Shake well. Double strain, by using a fine mesh strainer on top, into an Old Fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with the orange slices.

A Little About Bourbon

bourbon bottle

Bourbon is a whiskey that is made from a mash that is at least 51% corn. A whiskey can only be called bourbon if it is made in the United States. There are some other things that are characteristic of a bourbon. For one, the liquor cannot have a higher alcohol content then 62.5% when it is added to the wooden cask to age. There is no minimum age requirement for bourbon, but to be called straight bourbon it does have to be aged for at least two years.

Types of Bourbon

There are actually a few different types of bourbon that should be mentioned to give a full perspective on this type of liquor.

Traditional Bourbon

Traditional bourbon is made from a mash bill that features 15% barley, 15% rye, and 70% corn. This is the most common type of bourbon that you are going to find on the market today. Some of the more popular brands include Knob Creek, Jim Beam, and Wild Turkey.

High-Rye

A high-rye bourbon is a type of bourbon that has more rye. This bourbon is known for having more of a kick when you are drinking it. Some of the more popular brands that fall into the high-rye category include Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace, Redemption, and Basil Hayden.

Tennessee Whiskey

Tennessee whiskey is a simple straight bourbon that is made in Tennessee. One of the unique things about this type of whiskey is that the liquor is passed through a charcoal filter before it is aged. It is because of this process that the producers claim that it is distinct and do not simply call it bourbon. Jack Daniels is one of the most famous styles of Tennessee whiskey on the market today.

Flavor Profile

Bourbon has a sweeter, full-bodied taste thanks to the corn mash. As bourbon ages, the flavor profiles do not actually change that much. Many people prefer the flavor of bourbon because it is sweeter and has a smoother consistency. There are no further developing flavors on the palate with bourbon.

Features

  • Has a mash bill that is at least 51% corn.

  • Can only be distilled in the United States.

  • The alcohol content of 62.5% or less before barreling.

  • In order to be called Straight Bourbon, it has to be aged at least two years.

Favorite Bottles of Bourbon

rye burbon bottle

With so many bottles of bourbon available today, it can be hard to determine which bourbon is the best or which you are going to enjoy the most. We thought that we would share out favorite five bourbons with you.

Heaven Hill Green Label

 

Image result for heaven hill green label

Heaven Hill Green Label is a very affordable bourbon is so well known that it can actually be hard to get your hands on a bottle. This bourbon is made only to be for sale in the state of Kentucky and offers residence a cheap bourbon for drinking. The quality is significantly beyond what you would expect from the price point. It is definitely a bourbon worth traveling for.

John E. Fitzgerald Larceny 

larceny

John E. Fitzgerald Larceny is another bourbon that is available at a more affordable price point. This bourbon is produced in Heaven Hill and is a wheated bourbon.  The taste is full of flavor but still approachable. It is one of the best small-batch bourbons that you can find.

Watershed Bourbon

Image result for watershed bourbon

Watershed Bourbon comes from the Watershed distillery which quickly gained popularity after they released a bottled version of the Old Fashioned cocktail. While most bottled versions of cocktails do not compare in flavor and/or quality, this bottled cocktail will give even the best bartender a run for their money. One of the things that make their bourbon so unique is that it has a mash bill that combines corn, wheat, rye, barley, and spelt. It has a more diverse flavor than most of its competitors and is offered a reasonable price.

Stillhouse Black Bourbon

Image result for stillhouse black bourbonOne of the first things that you will notice about Stillhouse Black Bourbon is that it comes in an oil can, not a bottle. It is a delicious bourbon that comes out strong with heavy sweetness. There is a smooth coffee finish. Plus, you will love that the bourbon is affordable and is not going to set you back too much.

W.L. Weller 12 Year 

Image result for wl weller 12 year

The W.L. Weller 12 Year is a bourbon that is going to offer you the best most when you are looking for a true deep bourbon taste. This is one of those bourbons that rivals its high priced competitors really well. It is a smooth bourbon that is very approachable, even for those who are not fans of bourbon. It also has a complexity that you are not likely to see elsewhere.

Pros of Bourbon

  • Authentic bourbons are meant to be enjoyed on the rocks, but can still be great additions to cocktails.

  • Features a large flavor profile with many hints and notes that are distinguishable.

  • A strong and delicious aroma that will leave you wanting more.

  • Very smooth finish thanks to the fatty acids that are present in bourbon.

  • The very classic style of liquor that is a tradition to the United States.

Cons of Bourbon

  • Has a cloudy appearance that some drinkers find off-putting.

  • Will take some time to create, which often means that good bottles of bourbon are slightly more expensive.

  • Does not appear the same as other liquors.

A Few Bourbon Drink Recipes

When you read through our favorite cocktail list, it is hard not to feel nostalgic. These are the cocktails that were enjoyed by your grandparents and have been around for generations.

Old Fashioned

old fashioned cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 5 tsp sugar
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 tsp water
  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • Orange peel

Directions:

Add the sugar, bitters, and water to a rocks glass and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Fill the glass with ice cubes and add the bourbon. Stir gently to combine the flavors. Take the orange peel and squeeze to release the oils. Rub this around the top of the glass before placing the orange peel into the drink as garnish.

Whiskey Sour

whiskey sour cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • ¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ ounce simple syrup
  • ½ orange wheel
  • Maraschino cherry

Directions:

Using a cocktail shaker, combine the bourbon, lemon juice, and simple syrup and shake with ice. You will want to keep shaking for about twenty seconds. Strain through a strainer and pour over a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with the cherry floating and the orange wheel half on the rim.

Manhattan

manhattan cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • 1-ounce sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes aromatic bitters
  • Cherry for garnish

Directions:

Combine the ingredients over in a shaker and stir with ice. Then strain into a cocktail glass on the rocks. Garnish with a cherry.

Mint Julep

mint julep classic

Ingredients:

  • 1.3 ounces of bourbon
  • 1.5 tsp of sugar
  • Fresh mint leaves
  • Water

Directions:

Muddle together the mint leaves, sugar, and a splash of water in a rocks glass. Add bourbon, water, and then fill the glass with crushed ice and stir. Garnish with fresh mint leaves.

Hot Toddy

hot toddy

Ingredients:

  • 1.35 ounces bourbon
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 small cloves
  • 1.5 ounces of boiling water

Directions:

Combine the bourbon, honey, and cloves into a mug. Add 1.5 ounces of boiling water and stir. (You can add some additional boiling water and/or honey if you would like to customize the cocktail to your preferences.)

Tips to Find the Best Rye or Bourbon

When it comes to finding a great bottle of rye whiskey or bourbon, there are some tips that can help you.

Rye Whiskey

rye whiskey

Rye Whiskey had fallen off of the sales charts and had become pretty rare. Today rye whiskey drinkers will never know the pain of searching the shelves only to come up empty-handed, as there are so many rye whiskeys that are readily available. To find your best rye whiskey, here are some tips that can help.

Understand That There are Different Styles of Rye Whiskey

Knowing that there is a wide range of different styles of rye whiskey is essential to being able to understand the broad range and spectrum of flavors. There are two main styles of rye whiskey: Monongahela and Maryland.  Today most of the production is occurring in the south but this is not where the process originated.

Order Up a Classic Cocktail

Today one of the reasons that we still have rye around is that bartenders appreciated it and started creating cocktails that featured it. Without these cocktails, the spirit would have likely fallen out of production and been lost forever.

Look at the Producers

There are two different styles of rye whiskey producers, those who distill and those who do not. Since distilling the original way, there are a lot of additional profiles and hints that you get with a truly distilled version.

Finding a great rye whiskey really is not that difficult and with these tips, you should have success in no time.

Bourbon

whiskey bourbon

Buying bourbon is a little easier than rye whiskey as there are strict regulations and processes that have to be completed to call a liquor a bourbon. These U.S. produced liquors offer a unique high-quality flavor and are the perfect way to unwind after a long day. The following tips can help you to find a great bottle of bourbon every single time.

Have Knowledge of Different Styles of Bourbon

There are a few different styles of bourbon and by knowing them, you will have a better understanding of which is the one that you want for your needs.

Take Time to Sample and Enjoy

Bourbon seems to be one of those drinks that each individual can find one that they prefer. This is not because people do not know bourbon or because there is nothing special, it is because there are some flavors and styles that are better than others.

Know the Lingo

The best thing for finding high-quality bourbon is to know the lingo. Know the terms that are used and which combinations of flavors you prefer. Then choose the bourbon style that is going to fully meet all of your specific needs. Do not stress, in no time at all, you will be drinking a superior bourbon and enjoying your time relaxing.

Questions and Answers

Is rye whiskey healthier than bourbon?

Many people do not realize that drinking rye whiskey actually comes with some health benefits, at least if you are only sipping a few ounces each night. Here are just five of the surprising health benefits of drinking rye whiskey:

  • Weight Loss — Yes, stubborn pounds seem to be no challenge for those who regularly consume a glass of rye whiskey. This is likely due to the fact that rye is a heavier grain so you feel fuller when you are sipping on rye whiskey. Plus, it is one of the lowest-calorie alcoholic beverages.
  • Safe for Diabetics — Another benefit to drinking rye whiskey is that it does not affect your blood sugars like drinking wheat can. This makes it the perfect choice for those who are diabetic and want to consume alcohol.
  • Aids Digestion — For those who have digestive health issues, consuming rye whiskey might actually help. The fiber in the rye whiskey helps to reduce blockages and keeps you from having gas pains and pressure.
  • Keep Your Heart Healthy — Many people do not realize that adding rye to their regular diet is going to help decrease blood pressure. In fact, having one drink with rye whiskey each night can help you maintain healthy blood pressure.
  • Reduce Risks of Cancer — Reducing the risk of cancer might be the greatest health benefit to drinking rye whiskey. The scientific reason behind this is that rye has ellagic acid which helps to prevent DNA from making contact with cancer-causing cells.

While we cannot promise any medical or health benefits and you should contact your doctor prior to drinking, the information that is available about the health benefits offers a unique look at rye and bourbon.

What is different about rye whiskey?

The main difference between rye whiskey and other types of whiskey in the United States is that rye whiskey has to be made from a mash bill that is at least 51% rye. There is no limit on how much rye a mash bill can have, but some rye whiskeys have a mash bill that is 100% rye.

What is the difference between bourbon, rye, and scotch?

There are a few easy differences that you can learn about why bourbon, rye, and scotch are not the same. Scotch is actually a whiskey that has been made in Scotland. Both bourbon and rye whiskey is made in the United States. Most bourbon comes directly from Kentucky.  Additionally, the second biggest difference is the mash bill for each of these. Bourbon has a mash bill that is at least 51% corn, with rye whiskey it is at least 51% rye, and with scotch, the mash bill is mostly made up of malted barley.

Why Jack Daniels is not a bourbon?

Jack Daniels is not a bourbon but instead is a Tennessee Whiskey. The biggest difference between bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey is that the liquor is sent through a charcoal filtration process after it has been aged when it is a Tennessee whiskey. This process is done after distilling but before aging. Then the whiskey is placed into oak barrels that have been charred. The result is a rare smoothness that other bourbons and whiskeys do not have.

What does Straight Rye Whiskey mean?

Straight Rye Whiskey refers to rye whiskey that has been aged for at least two years.

Is Crown Royal a rye whiskey?

Crown Royal is not considered to be a rye whiskey. This is because the mash bill while high in the rye and containing about one-third rye does not contain the required 51% of rye that all rye whiskeys are required to have.

Can you drink rye whiskey straight?

Rye whiskey is often enjoyed straight or on the rocks. Most who drink rye whiskey on a regular basis prefer a large ice cube or sphere as the only accompaniment.

Final Thoughts

Choosing between a rye whiskey and bourbon can be quite the challenge. The first thing that you should know is that the big difference between the two of them comes from the mash bill. The mash bill is the formula of grains that are used in the production and are distilled to turn the liquid into a liquor. The mash bill for rye is at least 51% rye and bourbon is at least 51% corn. In many cases with rye, you can have mash bills that feature 95% or even 100% rye. However, with bourbon, the mash does not have more than 70% corn.

Both rye and bourbon are delicious accompaniments to cocktails and are great for sipping and relaxing. They are the perfect way to end a long day and when drank in moderation there are no health risks to drinking either of these. In fact, there are some noted health advantages to drinking rye. Whether we can say that one is better than another is really not possible since it is largely a personal preference as to which you would like more. As for me, some buddies prefer rye and some prefer bourbon.

Further read:

holtben6

Ben has years of experience with wine, whiskey, and scotch. After becoming a wine sommelier, he decided to focus his attention on the dark southern gold we call whiskey. Now a seasoned vet in the whiskey game, he regularly provides Whiskey Watch with the latest whiskey info and his personal opinion on the best whiskeys in the world.
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