Eat North Answers: What is the difference between rye and bourbon?

How to distinguish between two different types of Scotch

After breaking down the gluten-free facts about grain-based spirits in our last Eat North Answers column, we decided to stay within the wonderful world of Scotch for this week’s segment to answer another common query: what is the difference between rye and bourbon? 

As is the case with many of the world’s most-widely-loved libations, the main distinguishing factor comes down to two fairly obvious attributes: Where it was made and how it was made. 

Bourbon whiskey was first produced in Kentucky, U.S., and can only be considered bourbon if it is made in the United States. Beyond the regional stipulation, a bourbon must be made from a grain mixture of at least 51 per cent corn (also known as mash bill). Bourbon also utilizes a sour mash process by which the mash is fermented with yeast. Bourbon can be no more than 62.5 per cent alcohol when it is placed inside wooden casks to age, but unlike Scotch and Irish whiskey, bourbon has no minimum age requirement.

Rye is a bit trickier since there are technically two types of rye: American and Canadian. While both utilize either a rye mash or a rye and malt mash, in the U.S., regulations dictate that the mash must be at least 51 per cent rye. Canadian rye, however, is a little less stringent with its regulations. Since there is no law regulating what can be called rye in Canada, many Canadian ryes are made from a large proportion of corn mash bills. 

Technical distilling jargon aside, one of the easiest ways to tell between the two Scotch-based spirits by its flavour; bourbon is generally sweeter and more full-bodied, while rye generally boasts a spicy and peppery flavour profile.