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Exploring the Differences Between Rye Whiskey and Bourbon

Hattiesburg, MS

When first introduced to whiskey, many people aren’t sure what sets bourbon apart from rye. Since the two brown drinks have similar aromas, flavors, and appearances, they are often used interchangeably. However, bourbon and rye are not interchangeable in terms of taste, and there are substantial distinctions between the two that influence how a person enjoys them. Our staff at Lincoln Road Package Store share the difference between rye whiskey and bourbon so that you can select the right beverage for your desired taste. Then, visit our location at 2800 Lincoln Road, Suite A, in Hattiesburg, MS, to pick up supplies and make the perfect drink or dish.

What is Bourbon?

Bourbon doesn’t have to be made in Kentucky, despite popular belief. Anywhere in the U.S. or Puerto Rico may produce it. A fermented mash, or a combination of boiling grains and yeast, must contain 51% corn to be termed bourbon. Malted barley, rye, or wheat may complete the mash. Before entering the barrel, bourbon must be distilled to an ABV of 80% and “proofed down” with water to 62.5 percent. Bourbon must be aged in charred barrels. “Straight” bourbon must be two years old, and if the product’s age is under four, it must be indicated on the label. Due to taxes, bourbon may be bottled at lower proofs in specific export destinations, such as Australia.

What is Rye Whiskey?

Whiskey created from a mash containing at least 51% rye grain may be called “rye” in the United States, but only if manufacturers meet specific conditions. Similar to bourbon, it must be distilled to maximum alcohol by volume (ABV) of 80% and proofed down to a maximum ABV of 62.5% upon entering the barrel. It also must be aged in new charred-oak vessels and bottled at 40% ABV or higher.

How Are Bourbon and Rye Whiskey Similar?

There are similarities between bourbon and rye whiskey, including that both age in freshly charred oak barrels and reach their maximum proof during distillation. They’re both generally created in column stills, but not always. Many bourbon brands, like Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, and Woodford Reserve, have a rye-whiskey brother created at the same distillery. However, it’s not always the case: Bulleit rye originates from MGP Distillery in Indiana, but the brand’s bourbon is produced exclusively in Kentucky. Also, bourbon and rye can taste very similar depending on how they are made. Bourbon with a 49% rye mash load and 49% corn rye may taste identical.

How Do Bourbon and Rye Differ?

No other liquid may be added to “straight” bourbon. However, rye whiskey has a few exceptions. Straight rye can’t contain any additives, but if it’s not labeled as straight or it’s a straight rye mix, up to 2.5% of the volume may be “harmless coloring/flavoring/blending ingredients.” Since there’s no need to declare the additives, it’s hard to identify which ryes could have them. Bourbon’s high percentage of corn makes it sweeter and oilier than rye and boasts vanilla, caramel, almonds, wood, dark fruit, chocolate, and subtle spice flavors. Depending on its rye percentage, rye whiskey’s taste characteristic varies. A least 51% rye, like those created by prominent Kentucky distilleries, tastes like bourbon. But 100% rye whiskey usually has rich spice and herbal notes that are boosted by flavors like vanilla and oak caused by barrel aging.

When should you use each type?

Choosing the perfect alcohol begins when you remember that rye can make a cocktail drier tasting, while bourbon can enhance the drink with an oily mouthfeel. No matter which type you choose, check to ensure the proof amount is appropriate so that it doesn’t overpower other ingredients. However, ensure there’s a minimum of 40% ABV, or you could lose the effect. For some cocktails, the recipe specifies which beverage to use. For example, a mint julep is always mixed with bourbon, but a Sazerac is primarily rye-based.

Lincoln Road Package Store

Deciding which alcoholic beverage you need is easier when you understand the differences between rye whiskey and bourbon. No matter the use or occasion, our knowledgeable staff at Lincoln Road Package Store can help you choose the perfect selection. So, visit our location at 2800 Lincoln Road, Suite A, in Hattiesburg, MS, to purchase whiskey and bourbon supplies today. If you have questions about the differences between whiskey or bourbon or how to use them, please call (601) 268-3677 or email


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