Over the past few years, we’ve had the opportunity to visit several craft and industrial distilleries around the country. After extensive “primary research” consisting of sitting in tasting rooms, speaking with bartenders or tour guides or simply chatting with the master distiller, we’ve found there are several extremely consistent questions that are asked. We believe that if you’re new to whisk(e)y or a connoisseur alike, you should always be informed on what you’re drinking and what makes it unique or special.
Whisky making dates back centuries and is believed to have originated somewhere between Scotland and Ireland. There’s a longstanding debate at who was first but one thing’s for sure; the art (manufacturing) was made possible by having an abundance of available grains. The character difference in spelling comes from the translation between the Scottish (Whisky) and Irish Gaelic (Whiskey) words. Following the Irish migration to the United States in the 1700’s, the Irish form “Whiskey” also made its way west and has stuck state-side ever since.
One of the most common misconceptions in the United States is the myth that “bourbon” needs to be manufactured in Kentucky. While 85% of bourbon consumed around the world has been manufactured in Kentucky, a state where more bourbon barrels exist than people, bourbon, as defined by the governing agency that regulates the boundaries between categories of spirits, states that bourbon, among other qualifiers simply needs to be made in the United States, not Kentucky necessarily.
To better understand whiskey as a whole, it’s been more easily described to us in terms of another common beverage everybody seems to have a comfortable grasp on; vino. Under the red wine umbrella, you have a Bordeaux, which is specific to France or a Chianti which is required to be made in Italy. As it relates to whiskey, in the same way you have Scotch Whisky, which is specific to Scotland, Bourbon Whiskey is specific to the United Sates.
One area that we’re excited to learn more about, and you should too, is the distinction between two of the most rapidly growing categories on the planet; Bourbon & Rye.
Why? Because despite a similar flavor profile, not all grains are created equal… rye being a far more difficult grain to distill. Despite these (potentially) major difference in manufacturing, distinguishing flavor can be tricky as both whiskeys fall in the same family (alongside their European counterparts). So, to master the pallet you must pay close attention to the nuances… and let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to prove your acumen and prowess next time your boss pours a nice glass of that sweet nectar.
Our simple summary between the two is as follows: Because of the predominant corn base, bourbons have a sweeter, mellower undertone and finish. You’ll also notice more caramel taste in bourbons, which comes from the oak barrels they’re aged in.
On the other hand, rye, is a bit spicier, dryer, and more full-bodied. Sampled neat side-by-side will allow you to see the most dramatic difference. Sip on, friends.