Whiskey has continued to grow in popularity over the years, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon. As a result, Rye whiskey has come back from near extinction to become one of the more sought after styles of whiskey in craft bars. A few years ago, Rye was so popular that it was almost impossible to find a consistent supplier of Rye for many bars.

In this post we will focus on some of the differences between our Bourbon, and Rye Whiskey.

Let’s Raise a Glass for National Bourbon Heritage Month!

Regulations Regarding Bourbon Production:

  • Must be made inside of the United States. One of the most common misconceptions about Bourbon is that it needs to made in Bourbon County.
  • Must be 51% corn and 49% of the rest of it can be other grains.
  • Needs to be aged in brand new charred American Oak Barrels.
  • Can never be distilled to an ABV higher than 80%
  • When it enters the barrel for aging, it can not be higher in proof than 62.5% ABV
  • When it enters the bottle, it must be at least 40% ABV. I’m personally not going to be upset if it’s a few points higher 🙂

Don’t forget that 49% can be other grains, with the most common types being Rye and Wheat. As a general rule of thumb Rye adds spice, Wheat adds sweetness and Corn brings alcohol.

Regulations for Rye Whisk(e)y Production:

Many of the rules for production are similar to Bourbon.

  • Must be 51% Rye and the rest can be other grains.
  • Needs to be aged in brand new charred American Oak Barrels.
  • The same upper limits apply for distillation apply as Bourbon, not to exceed 80% ABV
  • The same rules for entering barrels applies as well, not to exceed 62.5% ABV.

To be considered Rye Whiskey, it does not have to be produced in the United States however. Canada actually has a long standing tradition of using Rye in their Whiskey, and early in my bartending career, it was common to just ask for a Rye Whiskey and expect a Canadian Whiskey to be delivered. Yeah I’m that old.

Canada has their own rules as far as Rye Whiskey production is concerned, actually it is more of a lack of rules that dominates Canadian Rye Production. There are no standards as far as the minimum Rye content in the Whiskey, or any regarding aging either. It’s almost with a certain degree of irony that one of the only 100% Rye Whiskeys being produced actually comes from Canada.

Taste Differences:

There are some generalizations that can be made when tasting Bourbon and Rye:

  • Bourbon tends to be fuller in body, richer and there are more concentrated notes of vanilla, baking spices and caramel.
  • Rye tends to be drier, more of a focus on the vegetal aspect of rye and almost always dominated by spice.
  • Canadian rye tends to be more mellow and light, with a hint of the Rye spiciness.

When making classic cocktails, try using Rye as your whiskey of choice, as it was the more popular style of whiskey up until prohibition. After prohibition, the sweeter style of Bourbon became the more sought after whiskey and Rye began to be relegated to the bottom of the category.

Hey – Do you totally nerd out on this stuff?

You might like our “Understanding Cocktail Components” course!

It’s just like this post, but way more in-depth about all of the different ingredients we use behind the bar. 

What we’re drinking to celebrate National Whiskey Month:

There are a lot of great Old Fashioned recipes out there, and this one is no exception! The cinnamon and nutmeg with Jerry Thomas’ Bitters really bring out the best in the Four Roses Bourbon.


Cinnamon and Nutmeg Syrup


To make the Cocktail:

  1. Combine all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice.
  2. Stir until chilled and properly diluted, about 30 seconds.
  3. Strain into a rocks or bucket glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with fresh orange oil and the orange peel.

To Make the Cinnamon and Nutmeg Turbinado Syrup

  1. Heat water and sugar to a light simmer
  2. Add crushed cinnamon stick and quarter piece of Nutmeg.
  3. Allow the syrup to simmer very lightly for about 10 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
  5. Filter out the cinnamon and nutmeg when cooled.


The reason you’ll want to avoid grating the Cinnamon and Nutmeg when making this syrup is that they have a tendency to “bind up” in syrups and make it an unusual, almost “slimy” consistency. I’ve found crushing the cinnamon and using a piece of Nutmeg avoids this problem and still results in a good flavor.

Chris Tunstall

Co-Founder of A Bar Above and career bartender and mixologist. I love experimenting, creating cocktails, and drinking Green Chartreuse.