Difference between Rye and Bourbon

January 11, 2017 by Editorial Team

Some people find it hard to tell the difference between Rye and Bourbon. Who can blame them? Both are types of whiskey and they have the same consistency and color. However, they are completely different in terms of taste and composition. In this article, the difference between Rye and Bourbon will be discussed.


Rye or Rye Whiskey is a type of whiskey that, as the name suggests, is mainly composed of rye. Rye is a cereal grain related to wheat and barley. The remaining mash may be made from wheat, corn or barley.

Rye Whiskey can either be American Rye or Canadian Rye. American Rye follows a strict rule that requires at least 51% rye content, while Canadian Rye or Canadian Whisky does not follow certain rules as long as it contains some rye and that it has similar characteristics to that of Canadian Whiskey. Rye that has been aged for two years with no additives is called “Straight Rye.”

Rye has a dry, slightly burning, grainy taste that becomes stronger in the mouth. Because of this, it takes longer to consume, making it perfect for events where people engage in lengthy conversations. It is also a perfect choice to offset sweet ingredients in cocktail mixtures. Canadian Rye, however, is more mellow.

Bourbon, on the other hand, uses a combination of different grains but is predominantly corn. The rest of the ingredients can be rye, wheat, or barley. It got its monicker from a place named “Old Bourbon” in Kentucky. It has a smoky but caramel-like taste which makes it easy to bear.

To be labeled “Bourbon,” certain rules have to be thoroughly followed. The mixture should not only contain at least 51% corn, but must also be made in the United States. Additionally, the charred oak barrel containing it should be free from artificial additives.

Bourbon does not require a minimum aging time, but a “Straight Bourbon” is aged for at least two years with no artificial color and flavor added to the mixture. A “Blended Bourbon” may contain artificial additives but its principal ingredient should be Straight Bourbon.


Taste is the greatest difference between the two. Bourbon has a sweet or caramel-like taste while Rye has a spicy and dry flavor which develops into a stronger flavor in the mouth.

In terms of composition, Rye contains at least 51% rye (for American Rye Whiskey) while Bourbon contains at least 51% corn. The remaining 49% mash in both can be made from other grains. Moreover, Bourbon can only be legitimately called Bourbon if it’s made in the United States, and if its oak barrel does not contain artificial additives. Rye, on the other hand, does not necessarily have to be from the United States.

Comparison Chart

American Rye Whiskey contains at least 51% rye; no specific rule applies for Canadian Rye or Canadian WhiskeyContains at least 51% corn
American Rye has a dry, burning taste that develops in the mouth; Canadian Whiskey has a more mellow tasteCaramel-like taste
Does not have to be from the United StatesMust be made in the United States to be labeled “Bourbon”