What is high-rye bourbon?



Professional amateur chocolate chip cookie Judge, off hour fermentation enthusiast, and co-founder of Golden Rule Spirits.

When it came time to create Golden Rule’s cocktails, I had already worked in the production and sales of spirits and knew my way around quality versus crap. Our mission was to provide straightforward, bar-quality cocktails in cans. To accomplish this task, we needed to start with the best quality spirits for cocktails. This doesn’t mean you immediately gravitate towards the most expensive bottles to make your cocktails. No, instead it means finding the best flavor profile for the cocktail while using authentic, quality spirits that don’t break the bank.

So, what is a high-rye bourbon? I think the best place to begin is to outline what makes a bourbon a bourbon. There are 6 inputs that must be met:

  1. It must be made in the United States.
  2. It must be made from a mash that contains at least 51% corn.
  3. It must be distilled at no more than 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume).
  4. It must be aged in new, charred oak barrels.
  5. It must be bottled at no less than 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume).
  6. It cannot contain any added flavorings or colorings.
The remaining 49% of grains in the recipe can be a combination of a number of cereal grains available. High-rye bourbon means that a large portion of the 49% is just that, rye.
So a high rye bourbon is a bourbon whiskey that has a higher percentage of rye in its mash bill (the mixture of grains used to make the whiskey) compared to a traditional bourbon. As a grain rye adds spicy, peppery notes to the flavor profile of the bourbon. When used in an Old Fashioned cocktail, such as our Golden Rule O.F., this can add complexity and depth to the drink, as well as a pleasant spiciness that complements the sweetness of the sugar and the bitterness of the bitters.

Overall bourbon can be a relatively sweet style of spirit. When developing our Old Fashioned we chose to have higher rye for three main reasons.

  1. More complex flavor profile: With notes of spice and pepper that can add depth and interest to an Old Fashioned cocktail.
  2. Balancing sweetness: The higher rye content can aid in balancing out the sweetness of the sugar used in an Old Fashioned, preventing the cocktail from becoming overly cloying.
  3. Bitterness complement: The spiciness of the rye can also help to complement the bitterness of the bitters, creating a more balanced flavor profile.
When we were searching for the perfect bourbon for our old-fashioned, there were technical aspects, but there were also markers of quality we knew we had to include. For a bourbon to be recognized as “straight bourbon,” such as ours, it needs to spend a minimum of two years in a new charred oak barrel. While I will be the first to admit that age statements aren’t everything in whiskey, for a well-rounded bourbon cocktail, nothing less than a “straight bourbon” would do. Similarly to our tequila, we are fortunate to have an amazing supplier of delicious straight bourbon whiskey.