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What is the Difference between Straight Bourbon & Bourbon Whiskey?

Drinking whiskey has been popular in the United States since colonial times. Yet Bourbon, while often referred to as “America’s native spirit”, has become even more popular of late. All Bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is a bourbon. Confused yet? Don’t worry, the experts at New Riff Distilling have developed a comprehensive guide to a few basic definitions for the most common words seen on bourbon labels. Today, we focus on the difference between Bourbon whiskey and straight bourbon whiskey.

Guide to Bourbon

The term “Bourbon” is legally protected under Title 27 of the Code of Federal Regulations as acknowledged in 1964 by the US Congress. For whiskey to be considered Bourbon, the following criteria must be met:

  • Bourbon whiskey must be made in the United States.
  • Bourbon must have a mash bill of at least 51% corn.
  • The mash must be distilled at no higher than 160 proof.
  • Bourbon must be barreled at no higher than 125 proof.
  • Each barrel must be made of new charred oak.
  • Bourbon must be bottled at no less than 80 proof.

Straight Bourbon

Under United States law, “Straight” Bourbon is whiskey that meets all the above requirements of Bourbon, but is aged for a minimum of two years.

The differences between straight Bourbon whiskey and non-straight Bourbon whiskey are the modifications that are permitted. With Kentucky straight bourbon, the only allowed modifications prior to bottling include batching whiskey from different barrels (and oftentimes other distilleries from within the same state), chill filtering or other filtration regimens, and adding water to reduce proof while maintaining a minimum of 80 proof, or 40% ABV concentration. Also, no coloring, flavoring, or other blending materials may be added to a straight whiskey.

The term “Straight Whiskey” is defined and established for production of American whiskey for consumption in the United States according to the US Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits. However, these specific regulations are not necessarily applicable to American whiskeys that are made for export. Several different types of whiskey are permitted to be labeled as straight whiskey, including Bourbon, Rye, Wheat Whiskey, Malt Whiskey, and Rye Malt Whiskey.

Aging Requirements

The primary requirement that defines bourbon as straight is if the distillate has spent a minimum of two years stored in new charred oak barrels. The only exception to this rule is corn whiskey, which is aged in uncharred or used oak barrels.

During the aging process, Bourbon oxidizes and penetrates the wood. This oxidizing extracts many of the flavor compounds such as caramelized sugars, giving Bourbon its sweet and smoky flavor notes.

Straight whiskey that is aged for less than four years is required by law to be labeled with an age statement that describes the actual age of the whiskey that is bottled. Other than the age statement, the only other label that relates to the age of whiskey is the “Bottled in Bond” label. All bonded whiskeys are required to be aged for at least four years.

Limits of Distillation

The secondary difference between Bourbon whiskey and straight Bourbon whiskey is that there is an 80% ABV (160 proof) concentration limit for the distillation of straight whiskey. A distillation that exceeds this alcohol content removes many of the flavors from the original fermented mash that was used in the distillation process. As a result, the spirit has a more neutral grain flavor profile.

New Riff Straight Bourbon

New Riff Distilling’s core Bourbon expression is a genuinely high-rye, full bodied whiskey offering savory, spicy character. Building upon America’s 1897 Bottled-in-Bond Act—already the highest quality standard for aged spirits in the world—New Riff Bourbon is Bottled In Bond Without Chill Filtration. Featuring a mash bill of non-GMO grains at 65% corn,30% rye, and 5% malted barley, it represents a new riff on Kentucky’s most hallowed whiskey traditions.Discover the best variety of our flagship bourbons and other spirits today.

Rye is one of the original domesticated Old World grains that was brought to the New World. It takes about two acres planted to rye to make one batch of New Riff rye whiskey.

Distilling an heirloom grain whiskey requires two primary ingredients – a whole lot of seeds and a whole lot of time. Heirloom rye whiskey is truly a patient process. Follow us along the journey of heirloom rye to learn about one of America’s most historic whiskeys.


What You Need to Know About Heirloom Rye

As of the turn of the century, rye whiskey had been in decline for decades. According to the US Department of Agriculture, American rye production peaked in 1919 when farmers harvested over 7 million acres of the seed to be used for many functions, primarily in bread production. Since 2000, the harvest has hovered at only 275,000 acres every year. Roughly 80 percent of winter rye planted every year isn’t even harvested and produced into bread – most winter rye is grown as a cover crop seed to protect soil. The cover crop seed has had a long decline and there isn’t a lot of practical or commercial interest in different varieties of the seed.

A great amount of commercial rye used for bread and other consumer goods is strictly a commodity grain from a mix of different strains. When grain merchants buy grain, they buy from multiple farms. They’ll buy a bin with dozens of other farms within that bin. The farmers know what they’re growing, but merchants have no idea unless they buy directly from the farmer themselves.

Heirloom rye presents a great challenge to those that grow heirloom crops. Winter rye is a promiscuous grain that can easily cross-pollinate. Winter rye seeds must be grown in isolation to accurately produce seed varieties. If they are allowed to cross with other varieties, the identity of the original will be lost. Farmers and distillers that use heirloom rye have to start with seeds from one particularly known provenance.


What does ‘Heirloom’ mean?

Depending on the person, ‘heirloom’ can have many different meetings. Typically, the term refers to older varieties of rye (or other plants, or livestock) that date from the early 20th century or even back into the 1800s. Older varieties are often discarded by farmers due to their lower yield. For distillers, however, a low yield can be beneficial because there are more flavorful grains wherever there are lower yields. This is the same for wine, where lower-yielding vines are highly prized for depth of flavor in their grapes.

Heirloom grains, including rye, have disadvantages that can make them tough to work with. They’re less disease-resistant and more susceptible to insects. The older varieties are more susceptible to disease, and don’t yield as well. For those who produce rye whiskey, like New Riff, the choice to grow single-strain or heirloom rye is impactful. A way to showcase the provenance of rye grains is through the wonderful rye whiskey from New Riff Distilling.

The Heirloom Flavor

It’s easy to discover what other heirloom foods taste like – you can simply eat them and find out. Whiskey takes a lot longer, and its unique challenge of reviving rye means that the grain isn’t as developed as other heirloom varieties like corn and wheat for whiskey and flour. This makes it hard to predict what will affect the flavor of fully matured whiskey. However, the early results are often promising. Depending on the rye, you can find striking and pronounced flavor notes and mouthfeel that can’t be found in other varieties of rye. This makes them all individually unique.

Each rye variety has a particular flavor note. Not only the common spice flavor found in typical rye, but back notes of other flavors like fruit that can be found just underneath other common flavors, making heirloom rye quite delicious.

Whiskey distilleries that use corn and wheat have many more years of experience using heirloom strains, and finding the flavor differences between strains has quickly become more important. Bourbons made with heirloom corn such as Oaxacan Green or Blue Clarage have subtle differences in flavor that will become more pronounced over time. These flavors include caramel and butterscotch found in the blue popcorn.

Rather than distilling heirloom strains completely on their own, some distilleries incorporate a mash bill with higher yields from non-heirloom strains. The variety of heirloom strains add unique flavors even in smaller amounts. Using heirlooms as part of a blend can help increase yield from the fermentation process as well.

However, heirloom rye has not advanced this far along. Few heirloom ryes are produced today, and the day distillers can experiment with many varieties is still far away. However, our history with the development of heirloom corn may suggest that the future of heirloom rye might be fascinating.

Bourbon Cocktail

The History of Heirloom

Due to prohibition, rye whiskey steadily declined thanks to consumer preferences for beer, wine, and clear spirits. While Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey still held a small market share, large Bourbon distilleries only produced rye whiskey on a limited basis. It wasn’t until the cocktail revolution began in the early 2000s that quality whiskey for classic cocktail recipes began to take center stage once more.

Today, two primary trends have emerged when it comes to Rye whiskey. The first is a return to the traditional whiskey mash bills style that showcases the unique balance of the rye interacting with the corn, wheat, and barley. Many whiskey enthusiasts love the flavor and history that follow the traditional Rye distilling process. The second trend is variation in the secondary or tertiary ingredients when brewers experiment with malts, oats, and other brewer’s modifiers. These whiskeys allow distilleries and bartenders to push the boundaries on the base spirit and create cocktails that express specific personal creativity.

Interested in learning more about our independent spirits? Follow us to our Balboa Rye Whiskey page to see how we make great whiskey with heirloom rye.

New Riff Distilling 2021. All rights reserved.

What does Japanese whiskey and Kentucky Bourbon have in common? What is the difference between Kentucky bourbon and Scotch whiskey? The grains that go into the mash bill play a huge role in determining what kind of whiskey will come out of the still.


A definition of whiskey.

Technically, whiskey is a distilled alcoholic beverage produced from fermented grain mash. The grain mash is then aged in a wooden container, which gives it’s distinct brown color and taste. Whiskey’s are usually distinguished by their place of origin, grains used, and the ageing process. While each whiskey is unique in its own way, they are generally described as warm, spicy, sweet, toasty or caramelly.

A Guide to Grains

All whiskeys contain a different ratio of grains. Understanding the grain ratio that makes your favorite glass heightens your ability to recognize, appreciate, and savor your favorite whiskeys.
Each dark spirit starts with corn, rye, barley, or wheat grains. Most whiskeys are made with a blend of multiple grains to create texture, depth, and flavor. Here is a quick rundown of the commonly used grains in your favorite whiskeys.


Corn grains are best for those who need an easy-drinking beverage. Corn-grained whiskeys have honey, browned butter, and creamy flavors to create a magnetic base that’s perfect for sipping. Its notes of toasted marshmallows add a hint of flavor that sets your taste buds over the edge.


If you prefer a little more intensity with your whiskey, rye adds a perfect amount of spice. Rye boasts the same ripe and dried fruit flavors as corn-based whiskeys but with some extra spicy and nutty flavors. That makes them rich and undeniably unique.

The spirit must be made from at least 51% rye grain and aged in charred American oak barrels to be labeled rye.


Those who need a punch should drink a glass made from barley. This grain is primarily used for Scotch and is malted and dried with peat. Peat adds a smoky earthiness to its flavor profile. Scotch and Irish whiskeys are traditionally aged in used barrels, often including sherry casks. Aging Scotch in these containers mellows out the mixture while adding fruit and spice notes to the flavor.


Wheated whiskeys have emerged in rising popularity. Almost all wheat whiskeys come from the United States. Like Kentucky Bourbon, wheated bourbon is smooth and has a sweeter profile as you can find vanilla, honey, dried berries, and toffee notes. These are some of the smoothest whiskeys ever made.


What makes Bourbon?

Bourbon whiskey is sweet and smoky in flavor due to its aging in new charred oak barrels. For a whiskey to be considered Bourbon, the mixture of grains that the product is distilled into (its mash bill) must be at least 51% corn. The rest of the mash bill can come from rye, wheat, malted barley, or malted rye grain. Additionally, distillers must store the mixture in a new charred oak container without additives. Only the law separates Bourbon whiskey from every other type of whiskey.

Is Tennessee whiskey still Bourbon?

First and foremost, the most significant difference between Tennessee whiskey and Kentucky Bourbon is the location. As the name suggests, Tennessee whiskey is made from distilleries in Tennessee, while Bourbon is primarily produced in Kentucky.

The separation of the two comes down to their filtering processes. The process in Tennessee is called the Lincoln County Process, where whiskey is filtered in charcoal before entering the casks.

Scotch Whisky

As the name suggests, Scotch is distilled and matured in Scotland. The spirit is mainly produced using malted barley, while Bourbon comes from corn. Single malt Scotch is made only from water, yeast and malted barley at a single distillery, while single grain Scotch is produced by a single distillery, but may contain other whole grains in the ingredients list. Blended Scotch is a blend of whiskies from one or more distilleries. Scotch must be aged at least 3 years in oak containers, upon which it is distilled and bottled at a minimum of 40% alcohol.

There are five major Scotch regions in which Scotch is produced. Each region has its own unique flavor and aroma profile.


Canadian Whisky

Canadian whisky is commonly interchangeable with the term “rye whiskey” in Canada. Compared to others, Canadian whisky is lighter and smoother than the rest. The spirit is usually made from a few different grains, but corn is the most prevalent in the mash. For a long time, rye was the most popular grain. The popularity of rye grains is why Canadian whisky’s alternative name is rye whisky.

Rye Whiskey

Rye whiskey is distilled from at least 51% rye. For those of you who are unfamiliar with rye, it is a type of grain that is closely related to wheat. Rye is spicy, grainy, and hard-edged in flavor.

Irish Whiskey

As the name suggests, Irish whiskey is produced in Ireland. It is common for most Scotch to be distilled twice. However, Irish whiskey goes through three rounds of distillation before it is bottled. Irish whiskey is made from a high grain mash of barley. It doesn’t have the smokey taste that many associate with Scotch. By law, Irish whiskey must be aged in Ireland for at least three years in a wooden cask to be considered whiskey.

Japanese Whisky

Upon first glance, you may notice that Japanese whisky follows suit with Scotch and Canadian whisky by spelling the name without the letter “e.” The first Japanese whisky distiller studied in Scotland and came to love the taste of Scotch whisky. Although you cannot pin a specific flavor profile down on Japanese whisky, it is generally Scotch-like in flavor.

Four Grain Bourbon

Since the remaining 49% of a Bourbon mash is up to the remaining grains, some distillers make a Bourbon containing both rye and wheat along with corn and barley. These are known as “Four Grain” Bourbons, containing four primary grains. They take sweet notes of corn while holding a creamy and spicy flavor profile.

Grains Deep Dive

One of the primary improvements we focused on in the Bourbon industry is our grain supply at New Riff. We are committed to working with local grain sources, leveraging relationships inside the Bourbon industry. We work with big-name suppliers in our field to take full advantage of quality grain for excellent Bourbon production.

Now that you know how grains are used, you can appreciate the many textures and flavor profiles of the dark spirit. Browse our independent spirits, including both Bourbon and rye, today.

Modern twists on the classic Old Fashioned cocktail.

There is no other whiskey cocktail as simple and suave to make than the classic Old-Fashioned. Bourbon, simple syrup/sugar cube, and bitters are also needed to create an elegant and delectable drink.

The timeless whiskey cocktail has inspired countless variants of the drink over years of experimentation and innovation. Many alterations and flavor substitutions have provided ample room for discovering new variants. A signature twist on the famous whiskey cocktail is coveted amongst many bartenders alike.

Whether you’re a seasoned cocktail enthusiast or need a bright summer refresher, the team at New Riff has explored ten excellent Old Fashioneds variants for you to explore. Let our recipes serve as inspiration for different old-fashioned recipes as you find which flavors you love.

Smoking Rosemary Old Fashioned Recipe

The Smoking Rosemary Old Fashioned is a simple way to add extra taste and beauty to your drink without needing too much attention.


  • 2 oz New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 orange peel
  • ½ oz simple syrup
  • 1 luxardo cherry
  • 4-5 sprigs of rosemary – to make rosemary simple syrup

To make rosemary simple syrup:

  1. Combine ½ cup of water and 4-5 rosemary springs to a light simmer in a saucepan.
  2. Add ½ cup of sugar, stirring until dissolved.
  3. Keep the pan on low heat for 5 minutes, then remove from heat to cool the syrup.
  4. Strain the syrup through a fine-mesh strainer, removing any extra rosemary springs.


  • Add 2oz New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon, aromatic Angostura Bitters, ½ oz rosemary simple syrup, and ice into a mixing glass
  • Stir, then strain into an old fashioned glass with ice
  • Garnish with an orange peel, luxardo cherry, and smokey rosemary sprig

New Old Fashioned Cocktail Recipe

There’s no better cocktail to sip on after a long week with our New Old Fashioned recipe. The New Old Fashioned is the perfect cocktail to convince any naysayer of aromatic cocktails to change their mind.

The New Old Fashioned is perfect for drinking during the holidays or any time you find yourself needing to cozy up. The New Old Fashioned is a dynamic cocktail that gives the ideal combination of both citrus and sweet.


  • 2 oz New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon
  • ½ oz demerara simple syrup
  • 2 dashes Orange Bitters
  • 1 orange peel
  • 1 luxardo cherry

To make demerara simple syrup:

  1. Combine ½ cup of water and ½ cup of raw sugar.
  2. Bring to a boil, and reduce the pan on low heat for 1 minute.
  3. Remove from heat to allow the syrup to cool.


  • Add New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Demerara simple syrups, bitters, and ice into a mixing glass.
  • Stir, then strain into an old-fashioned glass with ice.
  • Garnish with an orange twist and a luxardo cherry.

Meemaw’s Fig Jam Old Fashioned Recipe

Meemaw’s Fig Jam Old Fashioned is a perfect drink for both cozy and crisp weather. This take on the classic Old Fashioned combines perfect flavors that best represent Fall’s greetings. The Fig Jam Old Fashioned is a beautiful addition to anyone’s cocktail recipe arsenal, especially if they need something new for the fall session.


  • 2 oz New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon
  • 1 Heavy Bar Spoon of Fig Jam
  • 2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 1 Orange Peel

No simple syrup? No problem. Many of the sweet flavor profiles from this drink come straight from the spoon full of fig jam. Don’t worry, the New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon is a high-rye bourbon with flavor notes of cinnamon, mint, dark berry amid a finish of red-black fruits, pepper, and clove.


  • Muddle fig jam in a mixing glass
  • Add New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon, aromatic Angostura bitters, and ice into mixing glass
  • Stire, then strain into an old fashioned glass with ice
  • Garnish with orange peel to taste

Honey Bourbon Old Fashioned Recipe

This slightly sweet and spicy twist on the classic Old Fashioned is made with honey. This cocktail is perfect for celebrating a quiet night in. When it’s too cold to venture out for a drink, staying home with a Honey Bourbon Old Fashioned feels like a much better choice.

This timeless variation is effortless to make with only honey, water, bitters, bourbon, cherries, and an orange peel to garnish. Enjoy this fantastic cocktail indoors this winter season.


  • 2 oz New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  • ½ oz honey syrup
  • 2 dashes aromatic bitters (or substitute with orange bitters)
  • 1 luxardo cherry
  • 1 orange peel

To make the honey simple syrup:

  1. Combine ½ cup of honey and ½ cup of water in a saucepan.
  2. Heat the combination for 2 minutes over medium-high heat and stir until honey is dissolved in the water mixture.
  3. Remove from heat and set aside to cool for 30 minutes.


  • Add New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon, honey simple syrup, bitters, and ice into a mixing glass.
  • Stir, then strain into an old-fashioned glass with one large ice cube.
  • Garnish with an orange peel and a luxardo cherry.

House Old Fashioned Recipe

The House Old Fashioned is a term that defines how the bartender behind the counter makes their Old Fashioned with the spirits they keep. Creating your signature House Old Fashioned is a staple, so all of your family and friends know exactly what makes your cocktail unique from the rest.

Below is a guide to a traditional cocktail, with some New Riff twists to guide you towards making your own House Old Fashioned.


  • 2 oz New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  • 1 oz simple syrup
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Orange peel


  • Add 2 oz New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon, aromatic Angostura Bitters, 1 oz simple syrup, and ice into a mixing glass
  • Stir, then strain into a rocks glass with ice
  • Garnish with an orange peel

To add a new riff to an old tradition, experiment with the different types of simple syrups you can make. This can be as simple as substituting the syrup for another sweetener like agave nectar or honey or creating an entirely new syrup from scratch. Using a sugar cube is a great way to embody traditions when making a cocktail.

It isn’t abnormal to substitute bourbon or rye with other spirits in your Old Fashioned either. Try switching up the bitters’ flavor from aromatic to orange Angostura to intensify the orange profiles. Lastly, alternate the different garnishing you include on top. Instead of an orange peel, add a lemon peel for a lighter flavor. Consider adding a little bit of maraschino cherry juice for extra dark sweetening.

The Polo Bar Old Fashioned Recipe

Ralph Lauren’s The Polo Bar is a seamless blend of sophistication and all things comfort. For those who can’t post up at the Polo Bar, the recipe below will show you have to make a cocktail similar to Lauren’s classic Old Fashioned right in the comfort of your own home.


  • 2 ½ oz New Riff Straight Kentucky Bourbon whiskey
  • 1 oz Demerara syrup
  • 1 lemon peel
  • 1 orange peel
  • 3 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 2 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters
  • 1 dash of Wormwood Bitters

As stated above, making the Demerara syrup is simple. To make demerara simple syrup:

  1. Combine ½ cup of water and ½ cup of raw sugar.
  2. Bring to a boil, and reduce the pan on low heat for 1 minute.
  3. Remove from heat to allow the syrup to cool.


  • Add New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Demerara simple syrup, bitters, and ice into a mixing glass.
  • Stir, then strain into a rocks glass with ice.
  • Garnish with both lemon and orange peels.

Bacon Old Fashioned Recipe

For those who want to relive the bacon craze of the 2010s, we have just the right cocktail for you. Our Bacon Old Fashioned maple syrup is perfect as a substitute for regular sugar in our recipe.


  • Applewood-smoked bacon
  • 2 oz New Riff Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey
  • ½ oz maple syrup
  • 1 dash of Peychaud’s Bitters
  • 1 dash of orange Angostura bitters
  • 1 orange peel
  • 1 luxardo cherry

To make the bacon-infused bourbon, place bacon in a skillet over medium heat. Cook until the bacon has rendered fat and is beginning to look crispy. Remove the bacon and save for garnishing.

Then, combine the bacon fat with the bourbon. Stir and refrigerate until the fat becomes solid. Strain the bourbon through three layers of coffee filters.


  • Place New Riff Kentucky Straight Bacon Bourbon, maple syrup, both types of bitters, and ice into a mixing glass.
  • Stire, then strain into a rocks glass with ice.
  • Add a slice of bacon, orange peel, and cherry to garnish.

Cotton Candy Old Fashioned Recipe

The Cotton Candy Old Fashioned cocktail is perfect for those who wish to add a little bit of presentation to their drinks. Your guests will be pleasantly surprised to know that you can make more than the classics with cotton candy on top of this Old Fashioned.


  • 2 oz New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  • 2 dashes orange Angostura Bitters
  • 1 orange peel
  • 1 puff of orange cotton candy

In this Old Fashioned recipe, we skip the simple syrup and opt for orange cotton candy to prevent the cocktail from tasting too sweet. Regular cotton candy may also work with this cocktail, but we chose orange cotton candy with orange Angostura Bitters to maintain consistency in the flavor profile.


  • Add New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon, orange bitters, and ice into a mixing glass.
  • Stir, then strain into a rocks glass with ice.
  • Garnish with orange peel and top with a puff of cotton candy.

Tequila Old Fashioned Recipe

You may be familiar with good tequila in a beautiful tasting margarita. But you may not know that the spirit is made from agave, a sweet spirit that can be consumed on its own or in refreshing drinks.

The tequila old-fashioned is quite an experimental endeavor. Fortunately, its flavor does not fall short of excellent. The Tequila Old Fashioned lends unique earthy and spicy flavors to the classic taste of a traditional Old Fashioned.


  • 3 oz tequila (of your choice)
  • ½ oz agave nectar
  • 1 dash aromatic Angostura Bitters
  • 1 orange peel
  • 1 luxardo cherry


  • Add tequila, aromatic bitters, agave, and ice into a mixing glass.
  • Stir, then strain into a rocks glass with ice.
  • Garnish with orange peel and a luxardo cherry.

Newly Fashioned Brother Recipe

The Newly Fashioned Brother is similar to the New Old Fashioned, with a riff on some simple ingredients.


  • 2 oz New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon
  • ½ oz demerara simple syrup
  • 2 dashes aromatic Angostura Bitters
  • 1 orange wedge
  • 1 luxardo cherry
  • Brown sugar to candy the orange

To candy the orange wedges, start by boiling them for roughly 2 minutes. Transfer the slices to an ice bath, discard the water and chill the oranges. Add your demerara simple syrup to a saucepan on medium-low heat, then add the chilled orange slices to simmer for one hour. Stir every 15 minutes to coat them evenly in the syrup. Remove oranges from the pan and let them cool on a wire rack. Coat them in brown sugar before completely drying and serving.


  • Add New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon, aromatic bitters, demerara simple syrup, and ice into a mixing glass.
  • Stir, then strain into a rocks glass with ice.
  • Garnish with a candied orange wedge and a luxardo cherry.

For more check out our Kentucky bourbon old-fashioned recipe.


New Riff 2021. All rights reserved.

The Classic Manhattan

Whiskey, vermouth, and bitters. The quintessential classic cocktail has made many variations over the past 150 years. People often choose to substitute the traditional 2 dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters with cherry juice or even orange bitters. However, a more debated question than cherry juice and bitters use is whether a cocktail tastes better with Bourbon or rye.

Spirit connoisseurs may frequent the debate over which whiskey makes a better Manhattan – American Rye or Bourbon whiskey. Although the original New York cocktail ingredients call for American Rye, bartenders from across the US have quickly adopted a substitution for the spirit with a Bourbon Manhattan variant.

The use of either spirit creates a hint of complexities that other classic aromatic cocktails cannot match. However, many enthusiasts subscribe to their favorite variant on the traditional Manhattan. Which one is best for you?

What is Bourbon?

The use of bourbon whiskey as a substitute for American Rye isn’t a new trend. Many bartenders across the US have made the bourbon addition a welcomed one behind the counter. For over a hundred years, Bourbon has been just as much of a staple in the classic Manhattan as American Rye whiskey.

Bourbon is an American-made whiskey that contains a mash bill of at least 51% corn. The whiskey is distilled at 160 proof or less and stored in new charred oak barrels at 125 proof or less. Straight Bourbon contains zero additives and is aged for a minimum of two years before the bottling process.

The New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a classic bourbon for making delicious Manhattans. Our core bourbon is a high-rye, full-bodied whiskey which flavor characters that include vanilla accents, rye spices, and a finish that includes white pepper, clove, and red-black fruits. Our Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a must-have for nearly any classic aromatic drink.

What is Rye?

By law, American Rye whiskey must be made from a mash bill of at least 51% rye. Like Bourbon, American Rye is stored in barrels at no more than 160 proof and aged in new charred oak barrels at 125 proof. Typically, American Rye whiskey is aged for a minimum of two years and cannot be blended with other spirits or additives to be considered a straight whiskey.

The New Riff Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey is full-bodied rye with a spicy character. Our Kentucky Rye features a unique mash bill of 95% rye, 5% malted rye, and aged for four years in new charred oak barrels. Our new riff pulls additional flavors from the rye while adding a touch of elegance from the additional malted rye. Our Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey pairs magnificently with a class Manhattan or other aromatic cocktails.

The Difference in Flavor

The greatest differences between these classic spirits aren’t just the mash bill ingredients but also their flavor profiles. Of course, their components and mash bill play a role in both spirits’ different flavor profiles.

Bourbon tends to taste sweeter, with caramel-like flavors resulting from the heavy corn mash. American Rye whiskey tends to have a bit more spice, with savory undertones in the whiskey’s finish.

American Rye whiskey is typically used over Bourbon in the classic cocktail recipe. This is because an average cocktail recipe calls for sugar or a mixture or sweeter liquors. Some may find that substituting for Bourbon is cloy. However, replacing American Rye with Bourbon is another variant of classic cocktails.

The use of either Rye or Bourbon is up to the person drinking the cocktail. Only they know what they truly like.

Pairing Vermouth with Rye and Bourbon

The difference in Rye and Bourbon whiskey’s flavor profiles means that using specific vermouth is necessary to bring out the broadest flavor profiles present in the drink.

Those who choose to mix their Manhattan with Bourbon might find that sweet vermouth adds a bit too much sweetness to their cocktail. Consider splitting the 1 oz of vermouth into 1/2 sweet and 1/2 dry (Contratto Dry) to balance the flavors.

Just like Bourbon, pairing the right vermouth with American Rye in a Manhattan can also bring out the spicy notes without overpowering the sweet hints. If you wish to stick with the classic American Rye in your Manhattan, pair it with sweet vermouth like Cocchi Storico. Those who want to add a new riff on an old tradition, mix your Manhattan with both 1/2oz Cocchi Sweet Vermouth and 1/2oz Contratto Dry Vermouth. We call this the Perfect Manhattan for a reason.

Which is Better, Bourbon or Rye?

Ultimately, choosing either American Rye or Bourbon for your Manhattan is purely up to preference. Some believe that using a bourbon adds too much sweetness to their cocktail, while others who choose bourbon use one similar to New Riff’sRiff’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon as they are high in rye for flavor balance. Others have to have their Manhattan made with rye, as they believe the traditional ingredients make the cocktail a staple.

Check out our flagship whiskeys to start your journey towards the perfect Manhattan cocktail today. Follow us to learn more about New Riff and our relentless commitment to whiskey.


New Riff 2021. All rights reserved.

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