Tasting bourbon whiskey

Explore the distinct flavours of an American classic


Whether you're buying whisky as a present for a friend or family member, or for yourself, you'll find there's a huge variety of different brands available.

In this video, drinks writers Neil Ridley and Joel Harrison explore bourbon.

Classic American bourbon (brands such as Three Roses, Maker's Mark, Woodford Reserve or Jim Beam, for example) uses 51% corn, along with rye grain, malted barley and wheat to make up the mash.

Kentucky is the state most famous for whiskey production, although it is now being made in a few other places.

Bourbon is a very versatile spirit with a rich, sweet, fruity and mellow style. It can be drunk neat, over ice, or added to cocktails.

By contrast, the flavours in rye whiskey are different – big, spicy and more peppery – and you can smell it straight away. It's made with 51% rye grain and, like bourbon, it's aged in oak barrels with a charred interior. The use of rye rather than corn explains why it's less sweet than bourbon.

Until recently, rye whiskey was falling into obscurity but nowadays a few distilleries are turning again to the production of rye.

Rye whiskeys available in the UK include Bulleitt rye whiskey and Hudson Manhattan rye whiskey.

Some fans prefer rye over bourbon as the main ingredient in cocktails such as an Old Fashioned, Sazerac or Manhattan.

And just in case you're wondering, Tennessee whiskey (Jack Daniel's for example) isn't the same as bourbon or rye. Find out more about that here.

Learn more about Scottish whisky:

How to read a whisky label
How to add water to whisky
How to nose whisky
How to collect whisky