Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Build a Better Bar IQ: Bourbon vs Rye

Despite being usually linked together, there is quite a difference between bourbon and rye whiskey. Both are produced from a mash of grains (rye, corn, barley, wheat, etc), but for someone to make bourbon, however, the mash they use must be made up of at least 51 percent corn (most distillers use closer to 70 percent). Then the distillate must be aged for at least two years in charred American white oak barrels with no artificial coloring added.  Rye whiskey has the same qualifications with the exception of the mash must contain at least 51% rye. Most ryes are around 95-100%.

How does this affect taste? Think of it like this. Take two slices of bread, one whole wheat, the other rye and take a bite of both. The whole wheat is going to have a sweetness about it, the rye will have spice. That translates to bourbon and rye, too. Take a sip of Maker’s Mark for instance. Maker’s has wheat in the mash and is considered one of the sweeter bourbons on the market. If you take a sip of Rittenhouse Rye you’ll immediately notice the spice coming through. Yes, there’ll be a slight bit of sweetness from the barrel aging not nearly as much as the bourbon will have.

There you have it. Now, go out and buy a bottle of each and try it for yourself at home! I promise you won’t ever have a better homework assignment!


Jeff Faile
Bar Manager & Mixologist