Rye vs bourbon: what’s the difference? Here’s a quick guide to the main differences between these types of whiskey (and some cocktails!).
Rye vs bourbon: what’s the difference? These two types of whiskey are both very popular, but they have major differences in flavor. Which is commonly mixed into a Manhattan vs an Old Fashioned? Which is better? Here’s a breakdown on the technical differences, tasting notes, and of course: a few popular cocktails that use each one!
Rye vs bourbon: what’s the difference?
The technical difference between rye whiskey vs bourbon is in its production method, which results in a difference flavor for each type.
- Bourbon is a specific type of American whiskey that is made from at least 51% corn and aged in oak barrels. The name bourbon comes from Bourbon Country, Kentucky: the region where the spirit was invented. Today over 95% of the bourbon produced is made in Kentucky.
- Rye whiskey is a type of whiskey made with a majority of the grain rye. This term refers to either American rye whiskey, made of at least 51% rye mash, or Canadian whisky, which may or may not contain rye. Canadian regulations don’t require it to contain rye, though historically it did.
The flavor: what does rye taste like vs bourbon?
But the more important question is: what are the flavor differences between rye whiskey vs bourbon? In general, rye is known for its spicy finish and bourbon is a little sweeter and rounder. Of course, this does vary based on brand! We’ve tasted a bourbon was grassy and grain-forward, followed by a rye that was bright with a sweeter body.
- Rye whiskey tastes grassy and peppery, with a signature spicy finish. Depending on the brand, there may may be notes of oak, smoke or fruit. Rye is generally spicier with a more aggressive flavor than bourbon.
- Bourbon whiskey typically has a sweeter, more mellow flavor than rye, with notes of vanilla, oak and caramel. But there’s a wide variety of different flavors between bourbon brands: one expert breaks bourbons into 4 major categories: grain forward, nutmeg forward, caramel forward, and cinnamon forward.
What’s the difference vs Scotch? Read more at Bourbon vs Scotch.
Popular Rye and Bourbon cocktails
What cocktails feature rye whiskey vs bourbon? There are many whiskey cocktails that call for either type, but some are specific to rye and bourbon. Here are a few of the most popular in each category:
Popular Rye Whiskey Cocktails
Here are the most popular rye whiskey cocktails where its spicy flavor shines:
- Manhattan The classic rye whiskey cocktail, mixed with sweet vermouth and bitters.
- Sazerac A boozy classic invented in New Orleans in the mid-1800’s.
- Ward 8 A riff on the whiskey sour that’s worth reviving.
- Brooklyn Maraschino liqueur and dry vermouth make a sophisticated drink.
- Old Pal A rye whiskey spin on a Negroni.
- Toronto A 1920’s cocktail featuring rye and Fernet Branca.
- Whiskey Ginger Rye whiskey plus ginger ale.
Popular Bourbon Cocktails
Some of the most popular bourbon cocktails are:
- Best Whiskey Sour One of the greats! Whiskey, lemon and simple syrup.
- Boulevardier A Negroni using bourbon instead of gin.
- Kentucky Mule A Moscow mule with bourbon instead of vodka.
- Bourbon Sidecar A spin on the Sidecar using bourbon instead of Cognac.
- John Collins A Tom Collins with bourbon
- Bourbon Manhattan A Manhattan using bourbon instead of rye whiskey
- Bourbon Sazerac A Sazerac with bourbon
- Classic Mint Julep A Kentucky classic! Bourbon, ice and fresh mint.
The Whiskey Highball is a great way to taste the differences between rye whiskey and bourbon. Scroll down for the recipe!Print
Whiskey Highball (Rye or Bourbon Cocktail!)
- Prep Time: 2 minutes
- Cook Time: 0 minutes
- Total Time: 2 minutes
- Yield: 1 drink 1x
Here’s how to make the classic whiskey highball: tall, bubbly, and all about the spirit! This cocktail is a refreshing way to enjoy your favorite whiskey, whether it’s rye or bourbon.
- 2 ounces whiskey (rye or bourbon)
- 4 ounces soda water (or ginger ale or ginger beer, for a sweeter spin*)
- Lemon wedge
- Ice, for serving (try clear ice!)
- Fill a glass with ice. Pour in the whiskey and soda water and stir gently.
- Squeeze in the lemon wedge and serve.
- Category: Drink
- Method: Stirred
- Cuisine: Cocktails
- Diet: Vegan
Keywords: Rye vs bourbon, rye whiskey vs bourbon
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Wow I really love what you guys put together here, this was extremely informative and helpful. I love whiskey and would like to know more about whiskeys in general and the different ways to use whiskeys to make drinks
Anyone and everyone can learn to enjoy. I do know that whiskey is one of the only liquors that has some health benefits if drank in moderation. I greatly appreciate what you guys put together here! What about Irish whiskey How does this liquor compare and play into the combinations that you guys put together here? I’ll be looking forward to seeing what else you guys have online. Very smart, simple and informative. Thanks again! Max