What's the Difference Between Bourbon and Rye
Skip to main content

What’s the Difference Between Bourbon and Rye Whiskey?

Difference Between Bourbon and Rye

Bourbon vs. rye whiskey: What’s the difference, and how are they similar?

When it comes to whiskey, there are a variety of different options to choose from. Two of the most popular types of whiskey in the United States are bourbon and rye. Both types are made from a mixture of grains known as a mashbill. This mix of grains are mashed and fermented to create the alcoholic base for the whiskey. The main difference between bourbon and rye is the type of grain that is used to make up the majority of the recipe.

The Mashbill Explained

The mashbill is the combination of different grains that are mashed together to create a particular whiskey. The most common grains used in whiskey mashbills are corn, rye and barley.

The term “mash” refers to the process of soaking grain in hot water in order to break down the starches and convert them into sugars via fermentation via the addition of yeast. The resulting sweet liquid, known as wort, is then heated and fermented to produce alcohol. The mash is an important step in the distillation process, as it determines the final flavor, quality and alcohol content of the finished product.

There are many different ways to make a mash, but all recipes begin with some combination of malted barley, rye, wheat and corn. The type and proportion of these grains will vary depending on the style of whiskey being produced. For example, bourbon must be made from at least 51% corn, while rye must be made from at least 51% rye. The remaining 49% of the mashbill can be any combination of grains.

Once the grains have been selected, they are ground into a fine powder and mixed with water to create the mash. This mixture is then heated until the starch conversion takes place and the sugars are released into the wort. The final step is to strain the solids from the liquid and prepare them for fermentation.

In order to create a well-rounded flavor profile, most whiskeys will use a combination of all three grains. The exact proportions of each grain are closely guarded traditions among distillers – some even hold them as secrets, as they play a major role in determining the final flavor of the whiskey. However, understanding the basics of the mashbill can help you to appreciate the subtle differences between different styles of whiskey.

Difference Between Bourbon and Rye Mashbills

Bourbon and rye whiskeys both have regulations they must stick to in order to use the title bourbon or rye. For both, the mash
bill is a key component in those regulations.

The term “bourbon” has a legal definition in the United States. In order for a spirit to be called bourbon, it must be distilled from a grain mash that is at least 51% corn, and it must be aged in new, charred oak barrels in the U.S. for at least two years. The barrels cannot be reused, and they can only be used once.

Bourbon can also contain other grains, such as rye or wheat. The proportion of these grains will affect the flavor of the bourbon. For example, bourbons with a high rye content tend to be spicier. There are also regulations surrounding the proof, or alcohol content, of bourbon. It must be bottled at 40% ABV or higher. All of these regulations help to create a consistent product that consumers can expect to have a certain flavor profile.

American rye whiskey also has a legal definition. In order for a spirit to be called rye whiskey, it must be distilled from a grain mash that is at least 51% rye. Like bourbon, it must also be aged in new, charred oak barrels. Rye whiskey can contain other grains as well, but the predominant flavor will always be rye. Rye whiskey must also be bottled at 40% alcohol by volume or higher.

The next time you are in the liquor store, take a closer look at the bourbon and rye whiskey section. Now that you know the difference between bourbons and ryes, you can make a more educated decision on which one to buy. Remember, each brand will have its own unique flavor profile, so it’s important to keep that in mind when trying out different brands.

Here at Whiskey Raiders, we do more than write about current events in whiskey. We are the only media property reviewing whiskeys and aggregating the scores and reviews of other significant voices in the whiskey world in one place. If you’re interested in getting a shot of whiskey in your morning email, sign up for our Daily Dram Gram!

Filed Under:

Follow Whiskey Raiders: