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Sep 2, 2010 11:42 PM

Bourbon lovers - can someone explain to me why I like Rye much more than bourbon?

I am primarily enamored of Scotch but have tried many liquors this year - aged rums and tequilas, as well as several bourbons and ryes.

Although I really want to, I just don't seem to love bourbon and I am not sure what flavor or combination of flavors are causing the problem.

I have tried a couple I don't mind, namely WT rare breed and Woodford Reserve Seasoned Oak. All the rest I have tried, have been just OK to me, These would be WT 101, Makers mark, JB Black, and Knob Creek. I have also tried Jack Daniels No 7 and Gentleman jack - the latter just was bland to me, sweet up front with no finish at all, just seemed to disappear in the middle of my tongue.

I do like all the ryes I have tried - Wild Turkey, Sazerac and Rittenhouse.

I was hoping someone who knows more about these than I do could tell me what characteristics are shared by the ones I like and don't like - my palate is not yet really able to discern the range of flavors in bourbon. My favorite Scotches tend to be the strongly flavored ones, especially the peat monsters - Ardbeg 10, Laphroaig 10, Also love Highland Park 12.

Oh yeah - forgot to mention, I generally drink them neat, though will experiment with a little water or ice. It has seemed to me that most bourbons when iced leave my mouth feeling rubbery.

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    1. Bourbon is mainly corn in the mash which is relatively flavorless especially compared to rye. Most of Bourbon's flavor comes from the barrel (70-80%) and the other grains they use. Bourbon has to be 51% corn, but some have more rye than others (barley and wheat are other components). Bulleit Bourbon is a rougher style that has a good deal of rye in it. Two other Bourbons you might enjoy trying are Booker's and George T. Stagg (both are overproof).

      For all that ryes are spicy and fiery, Scotches are equally (if not more so) intense but for other reasons. The peat smoke used to dry the barley after it germinates is the sharp note that you probably enjoy.

      1 Reply
      1. re: yarm

        Thanks for the input yarm.

        I think I might have figured out what the issue is. I think what puts me off is the extreme flavor transitions of some of the Bourbons - from very sweet up front to very spicy middle to heavy oak and vanilla in the finish. I used to think it was the oak I didn't like, but then I had the Woodford reserve which is oaked to the extreme, but if I recall it wasn't nearly as sweet as some and maybe not as spicy either?

        I guess I am used to Scotch where the flavor profiles tend to be a little more coherent, and most of the flavors a little more subtle (except for the peat monsters of course). I do like the spice of the rye, but more when it is the predominant flavor as in straight rye whiskey.

      2. A lot of times what scotch fans don't like about Bourbon is the sweetness, which is due to the corn, and certainly a number of the whiskeys you have mentioned as not liking are quites sweet (Makers, Jack Daniels and Gentleman Jack). I also find that peat lovers tend to like rye, because both whiskeys have strong and distinctive flavors. As yarm indicates, I would suggest trying some more rye influenced Bourbons. In the general price range of the Bourbons you have alreayd tried, I would recommend Buffalo Trace, Old Grand-Dad 117 and Elijah Craig. You also may want to try George Dickel, a Tennessee Whiskey which has much more complexity than Jack Daniels.

        But hey, maybe you just prefer rye, and that's okay too.

        2 Replies
        1. re: sku

          Thanks sku - it appears I came to a similar conclusion after thinking about it, and was typing out my reply as you were doing yours.

          Although if my idea is correct, I might actually like Bourbons with less rye and maybe more homogenous flavor profile, since it is not the sweetness I don't like but what my palate sees as a conflict of flavors.

          I remember bookmarking a page on my old laptop (RIP) which listed bourbons by their rye vs wheat content, and grouped them by similar flavors - do you know where I might find something like that?

          1. re: sku

            Typo above, Old Grand-Dad 114, not 117.

          2. Well, as far as bourbons go, I find Maker's Mark to be overly sweet, one-dimensional, and not very interesting. As for Jim Beam Black and Knob Creek, I believe they're essentially the same product, i.e. same distillery, same mash (with the Knob being aged 9 years vs. 8). Jack Daniels isn't a bourbon, and IMO, doesn't really share a lot of the standard characteristics that good bourbons have. So, maybe it's just that you haven't tried any really good bourbons?

            Try to branch out to different distilleries, i.e. Buffalo Trace. Their standard bourbon is good, but also try their Eagle Rare 10yr old - IMO, one of the best bourbons for the money. If you like the spiciness of rye, try Bulleit - I find its flavor profile to be pretty rye-heavy, and IMO, even works as a serviceable rye substitute in Manhattans. Basically, I don't think you've tried a broad enough range of real bourbons to be able to state with any degree of certainty that you actually don't like it. All you can say is that you don't like Jim Beam, Makers, and Jack Daniels, and I think a lot of bourbon lovers would probably agree with you.