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Is Rye or Bourbon Better For Old Fashioned? (2024)

Which is better rye or bourbon

Last Updated on March 28, 2024 by Lydia Martin

The classic Old Fashioned cocktail remains relevant today despite its recipe being first published in 1862. It is easy to make, having just four ingredients – whiskey, bitters, sugar, and water. Bourbon and rye whiskey has always been the go-to liquor option for the famous cocktail. 

But really, is rye or bourbon better for Old Fashioned? Keep on reading to find out!

Which Is Better For Old Fashioned, Bourbon, or Rye?

Rye & Bourbon

Bourbon is better for an Old Fashioned than rye because it is mellow and has a balance of flavors perfect for a simple and classic cocktail. It also has a strong profile that can hold up to the flavors of bitters and sugar even after dilution.

What we like about bourbon is that it doesn’t have the burn despite having a strong alcohol taste.

However, as rye whiskey has complex flavors and a little bit of spice, it will still be great in an Old Fashioned.



Tasting Notes

Rye whiskey has a distinct flavor profile that makes it stand out. You’ll taste notes of vanilla or caramel against its lively spiciness. It’s also smooth and accentuates an Old Fashioned’s silkiness. 

On the other hand, bourbon has vanilla, toasted oak, chocolate, caramel, cloves, peppers, and nutmeg tasting notes. 


Old Fashioned cocktail

A quality rye whiskey or bourbon doesn’t always have to be expensive. There are many factors to consider to tell if the liquors are high-quality, like flavor, age, texture, aroma, and drinkability. 

Both rye whiskey and bourbon are great base spirits for Old Fashioned cocktails because each has unique flavors that cater to every person’s preference.

Sweet or Spicy?

Sometimes, a little bit of spice tastes good in an Old Fashioned. Rye is spicy, while bourbon somehow tastes sweet.

Rye whiskey packs a punch that keeps you wanting more glasses of the classic cocktail. Its spiciness stands out among the flavors of bitters and sugar. It also has a low sugar content and is low in calories.

Smoothness Level

Wild Turkey Rare Breed

Bourbon is smoother and lighter than rye because it uses more wheat and corn [1] than rye. It also has caramel, oak, and vanilla notes that balance the flavors. Meanwhile, rye has bitter flavors with a strong kick that light drinkers may not like.

Alcohol Content

Bourbons and rye whiskeys should be distilled to no more than 160-proof or 80% alcohol by volume. According to U.S regulations, they should be bottled with at least 40% ABV.

However, different brands offer different alcohol content, so it’s up to you to decide whether you’re up for a higher-proof spirit or not. But which rye whiskey brand is good for Old-fashioned cocktails?


Rye Old Fashioned Cocktail, Is rye or bourbon better for Old Fashioned?

Both bourbons and rye whiskeys are affordable. You can purchase a bottle of these liquors for as low as $20. However, since rye production is lower than corn and it is harder to distill, the price of rye whiskey is a little higher than bourbon. But what’s the cheapest bourbon for Old Fashioned?

Taste Test: Old Fashioned Cocktail Recipe

This recipe may help you determine which tastes better for Old Fashioned cocktails. You may use either bourbon or rye whiskey for this recipe.

Prep Time: 3 mins

Total Time: 3 mins


  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 2 dashes bitters (We use Angostura bitters.)
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • Orange slice for garnish


Pour the sugar, water, and bitters into a rocks glass. Stir to dissolve sugar. Add ice cubes and pour bourbon. Stir to combine and garnish with an orange slice.

Serving: 1

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Which is more commonly used in Old Fashioned, rye or bourbon?

Bourbon is more commonly used in Old Fashioned cocktails because it has a more mellow flavor and a sweeter taste than rye whiskey. Rye whiskey is a little spicy and has distinct bitter flavors that others are not fond of. However, both are excellent choices as base spirits for cocktails.

Is it okay to use cheap rye or bourbon for Old Fashioned?

Yes, it’s okay to use cheap rye or bourbon for Old Fashioned. Regardless of the price, picking a base spirit should be based on your preferred flavor. Also, the Old Fashioned cocktail is pure, ensuring that the taste of the whiskey used will still be highlighted.

What type of whiskey is best for an Old Fashioned?

The best whiskey for an Old Fashioned is often a matter of personal preference, but many enthusiasts prefer using bourbon. Bourbon’s sweetness and rich flavors, coupled with its smooth profile, harmonize well with the traditional Old Fashioned ingredients, including sugar, bitters, and a citrus twist, creating a well-balanced and classic cocktail.

Which is better rye or bourbon?

The choice between rye and bourbon depends on individual taste preferences. Bourbon tends to be sweeter, with notes of caramel and vanilla, while rye offers a spicier and more robust flavor profile. Some prefer the smoothness of bourbon in cocktails, while others appreciate the boldness of rye. It ultimately comes down to personal taste and the desired flavor experience.

Is a Manhattan better with bourbon or rye?

Traditionally, a Manhattan is made with rye whiskey, and many purists argue that rye’s spicier and more assertive character complements the vermouth and bitters in a Manhattan. However, personal preference plays a significant role, and some people enjoy the sweetness of a bourbon Manhattan. Ultimately, the choice between bourbon and rye for a Manhattan is subjective and depends on individual taste.

Is rye a substitute for bourbon?

Rye can indeed be a substitute for bourbon in many whiskey-based cocktails, but it brings a different flavor profile to the mix. Rye whiskey tends to have a spicier and more robust taste compared to the sweeter notes of bourbon. While the substitution may alter the cocktail’s overall flavor, it can provide a unique and enjoyable variation, particularly for those who appreciate the complexity and kick that rye brings to the drink. Whether in an Old Fashioned, Manhattan, or other whiskey cocktails, the choice between rye and bourbon as a substitute depends on the drinker’s preference for sweetness or spiciness in their cocktail experience.

Why is bourbon better than rye?

The assertion that bourbon is better than rye, or vice versa, is subjective and depends on personal taste preferences. Bourbon is often praised for its sweeter, smoother profile with notes of caramel and vanilla, while rye whiskey tends to be spicier and more robust. The perceived superiority of one over the other is largely a matter of individual flavor preferences.

Is Jack Daniel’s bourbon or rye?

Jack Daniel’s is neither bourbon nor rye; it is a Tennessee whiskey. While it shares similarities with bourbon, such as a mash bill primarily consisting of corn, the crucial distinction lies in the Lincoln County Process, in which the whiskey is filtered through sugar maple charcoal before aging, imparting its unique smoothness and character.

Is rye whiskey harsher than bourbon?

The perception of whether rye whiskey is harsher than bourbon is subjective and depends on individual taste preferences. Rye whiskey is often described as having a spicier and more assertive flavor profile due to the higher percentage of rye grain in the mash bill. Some may find this spiciness appealing, while others may prefer the smoother and sweeter notes associated with bourbon.

Should I get a Manhattan or Old Fashioned?

The choice between a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned depends on personal preferences in terms of flavor and presentation. If you enjoy a cocktail with a richer, more complex taste that incorporates vermouth and cherry, a Manhattan might be the preferred choice. On the other hand, if you appreciate a simpler, classic cocktail that showcases the whiskey with sugar, bitters, and an orange twist, the Old Fashioned could be the more suitable option. Both cocktails are timeless classics, so the decision ultimately comes down to individual taste preferences at the moment.

Why is rye used in bourbon?

Rye is not used in bourbon; rather, the term “rye” in the context of American whiskey refers to a specific type of whiskey called rye whiskey. Bourbon, a distinct category of whiskey, primarily uses a mash bill that includes a minimum of 51% corn, and rye is typically not a primary grain in the production of bourbon. Instead, the use of corn contributes to bourbon’s sweetness, while rye whiskey tends to have a spicier character.

Is bourbon more popular than rye?

As of my last knowledge update in January 2022, bourbon tends to be more popular than rye in terms of overall consumption and recognition. Bourbon’s sweet and smooth flavor profile, along with its association with American whiskey traditions, has contributed to its widespread popularity. However, the popularity of rye whiskey has been on the rise in recent years, with more enthusiasts appreciating its spicier and more robust taste.

Is Jack Daniel’s a bourbon?

No, Jack Daniel’s is not a bourbon; it is a Tennessee whiskey. While it shares some similarities with bourbon in terms of its mash bill predominantly consisting of corn, the key distinction lies in the Lincoln County Process. Jack Daniel’s undergoes filtration through sugar maple charcoal before aging, giving it a unique flavor profile and smoothness that differentiates it from bourbon.

Why is rye whiskey more expensive?

The pricing of rye whiskey compared to other types of whiskey, like bourbon, can be influenced by several factors. Rye whiskey often has a higher production cost due to the inclusion of more expensive grains, like rye itself, and longer aging periods. Additionally, the demand for rye whiskey has surged in recent years, contributing to its premium pricing. Limited releases, unique production methods, and the growing popularity of craft and small-batch rye whiskies also play a role in the higher prices observed in the rye whiskey market.

So, Is Rye or Bourbon Better For Old Fashioned?

Bourbon is better for an Old Fashioned because it is strong yet pleasant, perfect for light drinkers. It doesn’t give off heat in the throat. Because Old Fashioned is known for its simplicity, the bourbon’s mellow flavors and sweet roundness taste great in this cocktail. Price-wise, the bourbon is also a little less expensive than rye.

While bourbon and rye have distinct flavor profiles, both are great as base spirits for cocktails. Determining the characteristics you like in your whiskey is important so you can zero in on the perfect bottle that suits your palate.

So, which of the two spirits do you prefer, bourbon or rye? Tell us in the comment section below!


  1. 5 Rules That Make It Bourbon

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