Rye vs. Bourbon: What's the Difference?

30 December, 2020

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What is Bourbon Whiskey?

Bourbon has been brewed in the US since around the 1800s. No one is entirely sure of its origins, or from where it takes its name, with candidates including Bourbon County in Kentucky, or Bourbon Street in New Orleans. The drink has a strong association with the South, and 95% of all bourbon is produced in the state of Kentucky.

Bourbon is even more heavily regulated than rye, with many of the same rules regarding distillation applying to both spirits. Like rye, bourbon must be stored in containers made from charred new oak, distilled at no higher than 160 proof, enter the barrel at no more than 125 proof, and be bottled at no less than 80 proof. For bourbon, however, the mash bill should be 51% corn or higher, with most bourbons having a mash bill in excess of 70% corn. In addition to these rules, bourbon has been designated a ‘distinctive product of the United States’, so if your whiskey was made anywhere else, it isn’t technically bourbon.

Like rye, bourbon also fell out of favour during prohibition, but unlike its Northern cousin, it made a fairly quick recovery, finding new fans worldwide as American GIs posted abroad during the world wars brought their favourite drink along to remind them of home. These days bourbon is more popular than ever, with over two million visitors flocking to Kentucky’s famous Bourbon Trail each year.

If you’re thirsty for more knowledge, check out this cool bourbon infographic or visit the folks at Flaviar for a brief history of bourbon whiskey.

Tennessee Whiskey vs. Bourbon

Like bourbon, Tennessee whiskey is made using a mash bill of at least 51% corn, and aged in charred new oak containers. However, to be classed as Tennessee whiskey, it must be made within the state of Tennessee and undergo a filtering process known as the Lincoln County process. The Lincoln County process requires that the whiskey be filtered through, or steeped in charcoal chips before being aged. This removes some of the harsher flavours, creating a smoother, more easy-drinking whiskey.

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