Difference Between Rye Whiskey and Bourbon (With Table)

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Whisky is a distilled spirit made from grains that formatted and aged in wooden barrels. Rye whiskey and Bourbon are both very popular types of whisky, but they also have some technical differences. Physically Bourbon is a specific type of American whiskey and has a mellow flavor.

Rye Whiskey vs Bourbon

The difference between Rye whiskey and Bourbon is that Rye whisky comes in a grassy and peppery flavor that has a spicy finish. On the other hand, Bourbon has a sweeter and mellow caramel-like flavor. Rye whisky contains 51% of distilled rye. Whereas Bourbon is distilled from at least 51% corn.

There are two types of Rye whiskey, American and Canadian whiskey. American Rye whisky is almost like Bourbon whiskey. Rye whisky is distilled from a rye mash. There are also various ingredients like malted barley, corn is used. It generally aged in charred oak barrels. This type of whiskies are a bit spicier than another type of whiskies and gives a dry finish to the cocktails.

Bourbons have to be at least 51 % corn. Corn is the base ingredient of Bourbon, and there are also other fermented grains are used in it. Bourbon tends to be sweeter and has flavors of sweet corn, vanilla, caramel, honey, etc. Bourbons are generally made in the United States, and it should contain less than 62.5% alcohol when it is placed inside barrels to age. The color of the whiskey is brownish.

Comparison Table Between Rye Whiskey and Bourbon

Parameters of Comparison  Rye Whiskey  Bourbon  
Flavor  Spicy, strong, and smokey flavor.  Sweeter and softer in flavor.  
Main Ingredient  Rye  Corn  
Production  Distilled from 51% rye mash bill.  Distilled from 51% corn mash bill.  
Location  U.S.A, Canada  U.S.A  
Aging process  Minimum 3 years.  Minimum 2 years.  
Colour  Lighter  Darker  
Popular cocktails  Manhattan, Sazarac.  Old fashioned, whisky sour, mint julep.  

What is Rye Whiskey?

Rye Whiskey has a bold spirit that has a peppery, rich taste and is made with a majority of the rye grain. Rye is the key ingredient of this type of whiskey which has been made since the colonial era. American Rye whiskey is made of a minimum of 51% rye mash. Whereas Canadian whiskey may or may not contain rye in it. As per the Canadian regulations, it is not necessary to mix rye in Canadian whisky.

Rye is one kind of grass that is closely related to barley or wheat. Rye whiskey has a spicier and aggressive tone in it. Rye will also have notes of vanilla and caramel. It can also offer various types of flavors depending upon the mixing and aging process. On the label of a straight Rye, there must be an age statement. Rye whiskey also showcases the smokey and fruity flavor depending on the brand.

Peppery, spicy touch with every sip is the key identity of the Rye whiskey. Rye whiskey always tends to be spicier than the Bourbon. Due to the charred oak barrels, Rye whiskey offers a smokey texture. Manhattan and Sazarac are well-known cocktails of Rye whiskey. It gives a dry touch to the cocktails. Before storing the whiskey into the casks, it is filtered to a great level.

What is Bourbon?

Bourbon is the name of a specific type of American whiskey made in the United States. It is made with 51% of corn mash. In general, Bourbon is sweet, and it can also have a variety of flavors like caramel, vanilla, etc. The presence of wheat in the grain mixture makes the texture of the whiskey more smooth and soft.

Bourbon has gained popularity beyond the southern United States for its floral taste. During the process of making the whiskey, the mixture of the raw materials must be stored in the charred oak container. It generally does not contain any other additive. Additionally, due to the aging process in the charred oak barrels, the whiskey gets its sweet smokey flavor.

Bourbon tends to be more caramel-like in flavor as it is corn base. The name of the whiskey Bourbon comes from its area of origin, named Bourbon Country, Kentucky. Almost 90% of total Bourbon production is made in Kentucky. Undoubtedly, Bourbon is the most popular variety of American whiskey, and this whiskey has been distilled in the US since the late 18th century.

Main Differences Between Rye Whiskey and Bourbon

  1. The base ingredient of the Rye whiskey is rye. On the other hand, the base ingredient of the Bourbon is corn.
  2. Rye whiskey is made from a mash bill costing of minimum 51% rye. On the other hand, Bourbon whiskey is made from 51% distilled corn mash.
  3. Rye whiskey has a spicy and dry-toned flavor. While Bourbon has a sweet and soft caramel-like flavor.
  4. Manhattan, Sazarac are two famous cocktails of Rye whiskey. On the other hand, Old fashioned, mint julep, and whiskey sour are popular cocktails of Bourbon.
  5. Rye whiskey has some notable notes such as oak, fruity and smokey. While Bourbon has some different notes such as butterscotch, toffee, vanilla, etc.
  6. Rye whiskey is a little lighter in color than Bourbon.


For the most part, the raw materials of the two types of whiskey are different from each other. All whiskies are made using a mixture of fermented grains like rye, corn, wheat, barley, etc. We should not forget that water is also one of the main ingredients of whiskey. The fermented mash bills for both of the whiskey are grounded and mixed with water.

The sweetness and tenderness of Bourbon go well with any whiskey sour or any summertime drink. If you prefer extra sweetness, then you can add Bourbon to your cocktail to make it perfect for any occasion. Rye tends to have a more floral and intense taste that can develop an intense flavor on the palate. The flavor of whiskey depends on the grain that is used and how it is distilled. The type of cask and the aging process can also impact the flavor of the whiskey.


  1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1750-3841.14468
  2. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=vu2OT8x0QYkC&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=Bourbon&ots=7uRi-7kkDL&sig=KEVeYARlIvpHq2epakdWElcv5dI
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