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Made in America: Rye Whiskey vs. Bourbon

When whiskey newbies come to truk’t to try our selection, we get asked two questions. The first is, “What actually is whiskey?” Here’s the dictionary definition: It’s a distilled spirit made from grain mash, but different types of whiskey use different grains.

Here’s our definition: It’s a liquor. It goes down smooth. And it’s damn good.

The second question we’re asked is, “Is it whiskey or whisky?” Valid question because “whisky” looks like someone just forgot the E. The spelling actually depends on where the whiskey was made. Whisky is produced in Scotland, Canada or Japan, while whiskey is made in Ireland or the U.S.


If you read the title of this blog, you’d know we’re talking about two American whiskeys, bourbon and rye. Although rye can be made in other countries, it has to be made in the U.S. to be called an American whiskey, and bourbon also has to be made in America or else it’s not actually bourbon. The U.S. also has legal definitions for how rye and bourbon are produced.

Bourbon and rye whiskeys must be distilled at no higher than 160 proof, then bottled at no less than 80 proof and a maximum of 125 proof. (Want to find the alcohol percentage? Divide the proof in half.) They both must be aged in new, charred oak barrels AKA never-been-used barrels that have been burnt to a crisp on the inside. Once they’re in the barrels, rye and bourbon must be aged for two years before being called “straight.”

Even though they’re pretty similar, there’s one key difference: What’s in their mash bill.


Bourbon must be made from at least 51% corn with the remaining made from a combination of any other grain, like wheat or rye. Rye whiskey has to contain 51% rye (of course) and the rest can be wheat, rye and/or barley.

Different mash bills means different flavors. Rye has spicy tones and a drier taste, perfect for a Manhattan or a less sweet old fashioned. If you’re looking for a sweeter, full-bodied whiskey, give bourbon a try.


We love all of our bourbons and ryes at truk’t, otherwise we wouldn’t have them, but a few of our favorites include Journeyman Last Feather and Breckenridge Port Cask Finish.

The Port Cask Finish bourbon from Breckenridge Distillery is a little different from traditional bourbons. It’s aged for three years in oak barrels, then spends four to six months in Tawny Port casks to add fruitiness and soften the spice the bourbon gets from a high amount of rye in its mash bill.

Speaking of rye… Last Feather Rye Whiskey from Journeyman Distillery is 60% rye and 40% wheat, making it one of the few wheat-heavy rye whiskeys on the market.

Now that you’re an American whiskey expert, check out our full whiskey menu, then stop by truk’t to try a few. We’ll even teach you all there is to know about whisky ...and maybe tequila while we’re at it.


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