Is Rye or Bourbon Better For Old Fashioned? (2023)

Last Updated on November 5, 2023 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

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


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.

Key Takeaways

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!



Lydia Martin

Lydia Martin hails from Redmond, Washington, where you’ll find some of the best cocktail bars and distilleries that offer a great mix of local drinks. She used to work as a bar manager in Paris and is a self-taught mixologist whose passion for crafting unique cocktails led her to create Liquor Laboratory. Lydia can whip up a mean Margarita in seconds! Contact at [email protected] or learn more about us here or feel free to give Lydia a tip.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *