glass of rye whiskey on oak barrel of bourbon

Rye Vs. Bourbon: Your Expert Guide

When it comes to whiskey, there is a wide range of varieties to try with numerous different flavor profiles. Rye and bourbon whiskey are two of the most popular choices of whiskey, and many people may not quite understand the difference between rye and bourbon whiskeys. However, these two types of whiskey have distinct flavor profiles, and once you know the difference, you should be able to tell them apart easily.

Our article gives you the details on rye versus bourbon, including discussing the alcoholic content of these liquors, what they are made from, and other important facts you need to know.

Rye Vs. Bourbon: The Main Facts

Bourbon and rye are both types of whiskey, though the main difference between these two whiskey varieties comes from their mash bill, which is the mixture of grains that are used to ferment and distill, creating the liquor.

With bourbon, the mash bill must contain at least 51% corn, with the remaining percentage being any mixture of cereal grains, up to the distiller’s choice. Malted barley, rye, and wheat grains are the most common choices. Additionally, bourbon must be distilled to 80% ABV (alcohol by volume) and then diluted with water before entering a new oak barrel for aging at a maximum of 62.5% ABV. After aging (there are no aging requirements for bourbon), this liquor must be bottled at a minimum of 40% ABV.

On the other hand, rye whiskey must have a mash bill containing 51% rye grain, with the rest of this percentage consisting of other cereal grains like corn, wheat, and malted barley. However, rye whiskey must also be distilled to 80% ABV, diluted to 62.5% ABV to enter a new oak barrel for aging, and bottled with a minimum ABV of 40%.

In terms of flavor, both bourbon and rye can taste somewhat similar depending on their mash bill. Though when the mash bills differ greatly, these whiskeys do have distinctly different flavors. Bourbon tends to be sweeter, and common flavor undertones in a bourbon include vanilla, oak, mild spice, and dark fruit.

Rye whiskey with a very rye-heavy mash bill will taste of rich spice with notes of herbaceousness, vanilla, and oak. Rye whiskeys with a minimum 51% mash bill of rye may have a flavor that is sweeter and more similar to bourbon.

What Is the Alcohol Content of Rye and Bourbon?

The alcoholic content of both rye and bourbon whiskey has a similar range, as these liquors must be aged and bottled at the same ABV. However, the ABV does change throughout the aging process, and some ryes or bourbons may be stronger or weaker in terms of ABV than others.

In general, you can expect a rye or bourbon whiskey to hold an ABV of between 40% and 80%, which translates to a proof of between 80 and 160.

What Are Rye and Bourbon Made From?

Rye and bourbon are both made from mash bills consisting of cereal grains, though the mixture of these grains and which grain is the most dominant will determine if a whiskey is rye or bourbon. With bourbon whiskeys, the mash bill must be at least 51% corn, and with rye whiskeys, this mash bill must be at least 51% rye.

Additionally, there are no additives allowed in bourbon whiskey other than water, which is used for the diluting process before the bourbon is aged in a barrel. Rye whiskey has more lenient standards in regard to additives. While straight rye cannot have any additives included, blends of straight rye and other types of rye whiskey can have up to 2.5% of the bottle’s volume, consisting of additives like coloring, flavoring, and blending additions.

What Is the Primary Ingredient of Rye and Bourbon?

The primary ingredient of bourbon is corn, with this grain making up 51% of the fermented mash that creates this whiskey. The primary ingredient of rye whiskey is the grain rye, something that makes up 51% of the mash bill of this liquor. Other ingredients consist of a blend of cereal grains.

How Are Rye and Bourbon Made?

Rye and bourbon are made using relatively similar processes. These liquors start with a fermented mash bill consisting of 51% rye or 51% corn, respectively, and the mash bill is distilled, diluted, and placed into new charred oak barrels for aging. Both of these liquors may be aged for as short as two years or a much longer time, depending on the distiller’s whims, and they are then bottled after the aging period is over.

In the case of rye whiskey, some additives may be added before bottling, unless the rye whiskey is a straight rye whiskey. Distillers typically use column stills during the creation process of both of these liquors, and every distiller may have a different process they use to create the best blend of grains and the best-tasting rye or bourbon whiskey possible.

How Are Rye and Bourbon Distilled or Filtered?

Both rye and bourbon are distilled liquors, meaning that the fermented mash bill is heated and vaporized. The vapor is then collected, increasing the alcoholic content of the liquor, removing impurities, and removing the mash bill from the process. After distillation, the dilution process of adding water to the liquor can take place, followed by the aging process.

Can You Make Rye and Bourbon Yourself?

While it could technically be possible to make rye or bourbon yourself, this is generally outlawed by federal laws and state laws. You cannot start a distillery to craft your own rye or bourbon whiskey in your home, and doing so might land you in serious trouble, not to mention putting you at risk of safety issues if you aren’t familiar with the distilling process.

Instead, leave the rye or bourbon making to the professionals and invest in your favorite brands of rye or bourbon whiskey instead.

Making the Choice: Rye Vs. Bourbon

lowball glass of whiskey grey background

Rye and bourbon whiskeys are both fantastic choices if you are in the market for a new type of whiskey to enjoy. With the many options of whiskey out there, it can be difficult to choose which whiskey best suits your taste. However, now that you know the difference between rye and bourbon whiskey, you can get a better idea of what suits your palate the best and make an informed choice next time you select a whiskey to try.

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