Doctor's Notes

Whiskey Basics Vol. 5: How are Bourbon and Rye Different?

Apr 30, 2024

Bourbon and rye whiskey are two of the most popular types of American whiskey, but what are the differences between them? Both are made from grain mash, but the proportions of those grains, the aging process, and the location of their production can lead to very different flavor profiles.

Bourbon is made from at least 51% corn, while rye whiskey must be made from at least 51% rye. The remaining grains in each can be different, with bourbon usually including some combination of wheat, rye, and malted barley, and rye whiskey including corn, wheat, and malted barley. The higher proportion of corn in bourbon can give it a sweeter, smoother taste, while the higher proportion of rye in rye whiskey can give it a spicier, drier taste.

One of the most popular bourbon brands is Maker's Mark, which is made from a mash bill of 70% corn, 16% wheat, and 14% malted barley. This combination results in a smooth, sweet flavor with notes of caramel and vanilla. Another popular bourbon brand is Jim Beam, which has a slightly higher rye content at 15% and is aged for at least four years in charred oak barrels. This gives it a slightly spicier taste with notes of oak and vanilla.

In contrast, one of the most popular rye whiskey brands is Bulleit Rye, which has a mash bill of 95% rye and 5% malted barley. This high proportion of rye gives it a bold, spicy flavor with notes of pepper and cinnamon. Another popular rye whiskey brand is Rittenhouse Rye, which has a mash bill of 51% rye, 37% corn, and 12% malted barley. This combination results in a slightly milder taste with notes of fruit and spice.

In summary, while both bourbon and rye whiskey are made from grain mash and aged in charred oak barrels, the proportion of grains used and the aging process can result in very different flavor profiles. Bourbon tends to be sweeter and smoother, while rye whiskey is spicier and drier. Whether you prefer the boldness of rye or the sweetness of bourbon, there is a wide variety of brands and flavors to choose from.

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