While all bourbon must be made with at least 51% corn, the remaining grains are optional to the distiller. In fact, a bourbon can be made with 100% corn. However, distillers often opt for a bourbon made with three grains: corn, malted barley and rye or wheat. Generally speaking, a traditional bourbon mash bill contains rye as the flavoring grain in the mash bill. But if rye comprises 18% or more of the mash bill, it is considered to be a high rye bourbon (although there is no official definition). Malted barley, which is used in single malt production, often makes up just 5% or so of the mash bill which helps with the bourbon’s fermentation process.
Fans of high rye bourbon appreciate the hearty and spicy profile that the increased rye brings to the party. If you find that you’re a fan of any of these bourbon brands below, chances are you’d appreciate the others as well. Of course, Kentucky bourbon brands are going to be the most well known here, but don’t forget to check out craft distillers in other states. Because as you know, bourbon can be—and is —made all around the US.
Kentucky High Rye Bourbon Brands
Each of the Four Roses marques are made with a high rye mash bill, including the entry level offering. Four Roses has two separate mash bills for its bourbons. One is labeled recipe “B” and is 60% corn, 35% rye and 5% malted barley. The other is recipe “E” and is 75% corn, 20% rye and 5% malted barley. Both mash bills are utilized for this bottling. Additionally, Four Roses uses up to five different yeast strains for its bourbons. and all are used here.
The Old Forester brand was introduced in 1870 by George Garvin Brown and named for Dr. William Forrester, who was a customer of Brown’s (the second “r” was later dropped). This Kentucky straight bourbon is made from a mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley. This 86-proof bourbon is also the brand’s entry level product. Like Four Roses, the other bourbon bottles of Old Forester are also high rye bourbon releases such as the 100 proof and Birthday Bourbon among others.
Basil Hayden’s is one of the four Kentucky straight bourbons in the Beam Small Batch Collection along with Booker’s, Baker’s and Knob Creek. Although Basil Hayden Sr. is not featured on his namesake bottle, his likeness is on every bottle of Old Grand-Dad. It is his high rye bourbon mash bill recipe that is featured in this bottling. Basil Hayden’s has the lowest proof of the Small Batch Collection coming in at just 80 proof.
The Bulleit label, revived by Tom Bulleit, was first produced for friends and family by Augustus Bulleit in the early 1800s. While Augustus never sold his product, Tom (working with Four Roses) first started producing his version of this “Frontier Whiskey” around 1987. The mash bill here is 68% corn, 28% rye and 4% malted barley for this high rye bourbon. It is bottled at 90 proof.
Old Grand-Dad is based on the high rye bourbon recipe made famous by Basil Hayden—it’s his picture on the bottle. This is the bottled-in-bond version of Old Grand-Dad Bourbon, meaning it was all distilled in the same calendar year. Additionally, it was aged at least 4 years under government supervision, and it is bottled at 50% ABV. Along with Old Overholt Rye, Old Grand-Dad falls under “The Olds” whiskeys released by Jim Beam.
Distilled at its namesake Woodford Reserve Distillery located in Versailles (formerly called Labrot & Graham Distillery), this Kentucky straight bourbon was first introduced in 1996. This high rye bourbon has a mash bill containing 18% rye. It is made from a combination of pot still and column still whiskey. The bourbon is aged between 6-7 years and carries no age statement. It’s bottled at 45.2% ABV.
Opened in 2014, New Riff Distillery patiently waited for this spirit to reach four years of age before releasing any other whiskeys. This non chill-filtered, bottled-in-bond bourbon is made from a mash bill of three non-GMO grains including 65% corn, 30% rye and 5% malted barley. It is bottled at 100 proof.
High Rye Bourbon From Around the US
This straight bourbon takes its namesake from Cincinnati Prohibition-era bootlegger George Remus, known as the King of the Bootleggers. MGP based in Indiana acquired the George Remus brand from Queen City Whiskey Co. in November 2016. This blend of high rye bourbons ages for a minimum of four years. It’s bottled at 47% ABV. Keep an eye out for the brand’s limited edition Remus Repeal Reserve Series, each of which are also high rye bourbon expressions.
This straight bourbon from Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. in Galena, Illinois, is matured for a minimum of four years. Made from a mash bill of 72% corn, 23% rye and 5% malted barley, the bourbon is barreled at 117.5 proof. After maturation, it’s then bottled at 100 proof without chill filtration. Each release is made from a small batch of just eight barrels.
Peach Street Distillers, located in Palisades, Colorado, produce its small batch high rye bourbon in small batches. In fact, the brand produces just 1 and 1/3 barrels each day. The bourbon starts with open fermentation of a wash consisting of 60% Colorado corn, 20% rye and 20% two-row malted barley before it’s distilled. It is aged for a minimum of two years in standard 53-gallon barrels before being bottled at 92 proof in hand-numbered bottles.
Tom’s Town Distilling Co. is located in Kansas City, Missouri. Its high rye bourbon is made from a mash bill of 62% corn, 36% rye and 2% malted barley. It matures traditionally in new, charred American oak barrels before a secondary maturation with American and French oak staves. It is bottled at 90 proof.
Coppersea Distilling is a grain-to-glass farm distillery located in the Hudson Valley in New York. Excelsior Bourbon uses 100% Hudson Valley grains in its production with a mash bill of 60% corn, 30% rye and 10% malted barley. The distillery uses open top fermentation which takes about a week and distillation is done with direct-fire alembic stills. The barrels used for maturation also hail from the state of New York, although the bourbon only spends about a year in them. It is bottled at 96 proof.
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