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

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.

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:

Here are the most popular rye whiskey cocktails where its spicy flavor shines:

Some of the most popular bourbon cocktails are:

The Whiskey Highball is a great way to taste the differences between rye whiskey and bourbon. Scroll down for the recipe!

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Rye vs bourbon

Whiskey Highball (Rye or Bourbon Cocktail!)


  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 2 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 minutes
  • Yield: 1 drink 1x
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

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.


Ingredients

Scale

Instructions

  1. Fill a glass with ice. Pour in the whiskey and soda water and stir gently.
  2. Squeeze in the lemon wedge and serve.
  • Category: Drink
  • Method: Stirred
  • Cuisine: Cocktails

Keywords: Rye vs bourbon, rye whiskey vs bourbon

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you'll want to make again and again.

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