The Advanced Guide to Bourbon, Whiskey, and Rye 

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The Advanced Guide to Bourbon, Whiskey, and Rye 

bottles of bourbon

Kentucky bourbon whiskey, straight rye whiskey, and whiskey whiskey–there are many variations of everyone’s favorite brown spirit available in every liquor store and bar in the country. But have you ever stopped and really considered the differences? This advanced guide to bourbon, whiskey, and rye will teach you everything you need to know to drink like a pro.

And, even if you already know the basics, we hope you’ll learn something new and appreciate what’s in your glass even more.

All About Whiskey

Let’s start with the basics: what is whiskey? Whiskey is a type of spirit made from fermented cereal grains. It’s usually made in wood barrels and has a dark, rich color. Most whiskey rings in at about 40% ABV (alcohol by volume) or 80 proof, though there is some variation between different styles and brands. Whiskey is made worldwide using various base grains, production techniques, and aging and finishing methods.

How it’s made, including the ratio of grains that go into the mashbill and how it’s stored, helps determine whiskey’s final flavor. Although there are significant differences across different styles of whiskey, it’s generally warm, rich, and contains notes of caramel and other flavors.

Whiskey is a Broad Term

The next thing you need to understand is that there are quite a few different styles of whiskey out there, each with specific production requirements and defining characteristics.

Common varieties include:

  • Bourbon
  • Rye
  • American Whiskey
  • Canadian Whiskey
  • Japanese Whiskey
  • Scotch Whiskey
  • Irish Whiskey

The United States is a major player in the whiskey world, as it produces two distinct styles with worldwide acclaim — bourbon and rye. The difference between whiskey, bourbon, and rye can be confusing, so let’s break em down.

Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (KSBW)

Bourbon is a type of whiskey that must meet specific qualifications. These requirements are so esteemed that the U.S. Congress officially recognizes them. To be considered bourbon, whiskey must:

  • Be made in the U.S
  • Contain at least 51% of corn in the mashbill
  • Be aged in new, charred American oak barrels
  • Be distilled at 160 proof (80 ABV) or less and bottled at no less than 80 proof (40 ABV)

Although a good deal of Bourbon (including the delicious bottles from Lux Row Distillers) is produced in Kentucky, it doesn’t have to be. Depending on many factors, each type of whiskey results in distinct tasting notes. KSBW is typically known for its sweet, caramel-forward flavor, though it’s often much more complex than that.

Typical flavors in KSBW could include:

  • vanilla
  • caramel
  • custard
  • butterscotch
  • honey
  • chocolate
  • maple
  • leather
  • cinnamon
  • and much more

Straight Rye Whiskey

Rye is another popular type of whiskey, and several factors differentiate rye from other kinds of whiskey (including bourbon). Unlike bourbon, rye doesn’t have to be made in the U.S., and a lot of production occurs in Canada. Rye must contain at least 51% of rye grain in the mashbill, which results in the final product featuring an unmistakably spicy flavor.

Rye tends to be punchier and less sweet than bourbon. Some ryes emphasize hints of tobacco, honey, and spice, like Old Ezra Rye 7, and others focus on balancing sweet and spicy, like Rebel 100 Rye.

Many will describe rye whiskey as peppery, spicy, and even fruity.

The Best Way to Learn is By Drinking

Of course, the best way to learn about whiskey is by drinking it and trying different types for yourself. Whether you find yourself as a rye guy or gal or a bourbon lover, we hope you’ll experience the wonderful world of whiskey throughout your entire life.

And, if you’re unsure where to start, you can find some of our award-winning whiskeys at a store near you.

Use the Whiskey Locator

And, if you really want to take a deep dive into the world of whiskey making, we offer tours at our distillery in the heart of bourbon country, Bardstown, Kentucky.

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