Rye vs bourbon

[Infographic] Rye Vs. Bourbon: Differences Explained

Rye vs Bourbon

Connoisseurs are pretty much well-informed about the whiskey’s ins and outs, but ordinary individuals are not that knowledgeable enough. Their common struggle? Knowing the difference between rye vs. bourbon.

While these whiskeys are outstanding on their own, bourbon has a more sweet and lighter flavor compared to the distinct spicy and bitter notes of rye, making it a more ideal choice for drinkers. However, despite the difference in flavor, these two are both ideal as liquor bases for cocktails. 

Read on to learn more about the rye vs. bourbon showdown.

Rye Vs Bourbon: Similarities & Differences Explained

What is Rye Whiskey?

A glass of  rye with cocktail strainer and jigger

Rye is a classic whiskey. The development of rye can be traced back to the states of Pennsylvania-Maryland in the 1700s. Technically speaking, rye and bourbon share similar qualities. However, the subtle change in ingredients creates a drastic difference in the overall drinking experience. 

This whiskey type comprises 51% rye and other mixtures in the mash, including corn and barley. In the U.S., rye should not be distilled to more than 160 U.S. proof or 80% abv. Moreover, it should be in charred and new oak barrels. The alcohol should be contained in barrels with no more than 125 proof or 62.5% abv. Whiskey is also called “rye” when aged for at least two years without any other spirit mixture. 

Drinkers commonly consume two main types of rye whiskey:

  • American Rye

American rye is made based on the ingredients mentioned above and rules. This variation is a staple in bars and households because of its natural taste and classic consistency. 

  • Canadian Rye

While many rules are involved in American rye, its Canadian counterpart is more open on what makes whiskey rye. For one, they can make whiskey with anything and still call it rye. Most of their rye whiskey has more corn in the mash bill compared to rye itself. 

What is Bourbon Whiskey? 

 A glass of  bourbon

Bourbon is a barrel-aged distilled whiskey made of 51% corn as its primary base in the mash bill. The name’s origin is not 100% historically noted. Still, some historians and researchers found the word bourbon to be derived from either of the following:  the French Bourbon Dynasty,  Bourbon County in Kentucky, and Bourbon Street in New Orleans. 

There are three main types of bourbon served in glasses that are common in the market:

  • Traditional Bourbon

Traditional bourbon is made of 15% barley, 15% rye, and 70% corn. It is the most drunk type of bourbon because of its balanced flavor profile. 

  • High-Rye Bourbon 

High-rye bourbon has a more sharp, spicy, and intense flavor that is most ideal as a base for cocktails. 

  • Tennessee Bourbon

Tennessee bourbon is just straight-up bourbon that is made in Tennessee. It is also known to undergo a charcoal filter before it is barrel-aged. 

Rye vs. Bourbon Showdown 

Now that you are familiar with the difference between rye and bourbon, it’s time to identify which between the two is better in several categories. 

1. Flavor - Winner: Bourbon

It’s a no-brainer that both rye and bourbon tastes terrific. However, these two vary in taste mainly because of the main ingredient involved in the production. Rye is known to have a strong kick of spicy and bitter flavors that can be intimidating to most people, that drinking it in one shot is not advisable. It gives off a specific heat in your throat that can be a little off, especially for light drinkers. 

On the other hand, bourbon is known for its smooth, light, and sweet taste. It primarily gives off caramel, vanilla, and oak flavors which makes it well-balanced. Since bourbon also uses more wheat and corn than rye, its flavor tends to be softer and clearer. 

Considering that not everyone is fond of an overly spiced liquor, the winner between rye vs. bourbon for this round belongs to the latter just because everyone can enjoy drinking this without getting their throats smoking hot. 

2. Sugar Content - Winner: Rye

Most liquors are considered unhealthy simply because their alcohol content and ingredients are loaded with sugar. Rye is known as one of the lowest-calorie alcohol. This is because it does not use much corn or wheat in its production. The amount of sugar in the rye is 1 gram per 100 grams of grain. Whereas the amount of sugar in white corn is three times, and yellow corn is six times more. 

If you are entirely cutting down on your sugar intake because of diabetes or other health-related concerns, you should choose rye over bourbon. 

3. Price - Winner: Bourbon

Both rye and bourbon are affordable. You can buy a bottle of either of these liquor at around $20. However, if you are trying to save some money, you can choose bourbon instead of rye. Rye is a difficult grain to distill since it is quite sticky compared to corn or wheat. Moreover, rye production is lower compared to corn which is at around 160 acres of bushels per acre. 

Since rye production requires more effort and time, it can be a reason why it is priced higher than bourbon. 

4. Cocktail Base - It’s a Tie!

Rye and bourbon can be consumed on their own, but it's primarily used as a base spirit for cocktails such as Manhattan, old-fashioned, whiskey sour, among others. While these two have distinct flavors, both of them are great to be mixed with other ingredients in a cocktail. 

Some bars and patrons prefer rye because its strong and spicy flavors will still elevate despite all the other syrups and fruit juices added into the beverage. On the other hand, some prefer bourbon because its mellow flavors just sit well with the fruity and zesty ingredients in a cocktail. 


In the rye vs. bourbon battle, the result yields that it is indeed bourbon that reigns supreme. While the difference between rye and bourbon is not that wide, the latter is more friendly in flavor and price. 

Choose Bourbon Whiskey if:

  • You are more inclined to the sweet and smooth taste. 
  • You want to save more money. 
  • You fancy other flavor variations.

Choose Rye Whiskey if:

  • You want a good kick and heat in your drink.
  • You want more color in your glass. 
  • You are trying to cut down on sugar. 

Both rye and bourbon are delicious liquors to enjoy either straight or as a base for cocktails. Don’t be afraid to switch up your reference, so you will also know how these two differ from one another. Do you agree that bourbon is way better than rye? Share with us your thoughts in the comment section.


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