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Bourbon and Whiskey and Rye, Oh My!

Bourbon and Whiskey and Rye, Oh My!
August 11, 2020 Tenth Ward Distilling

Whiskey and Bourbon and Rye, Oh My!

Written by Amanda Boroughs, Marketing & Events Manager, Tenth Ward Distilling Company

What is the difference between a whiskey and a bourbon?
What is the difference between bourbon and rye?
Doesn’t bourbon have to be made in Kentucky?
Doesn’t bourbon have to be aged two years?
Can’t you just use any barrel?

These are questions I’ve asked myself first starting out here at Tenth Ward. And apparently I’m not alone, because we get these questions almost daily at the Cocktail Lab. So I figured I’d share a little more about these whiskey classifications. 

If you’re a whiskey connoisseur, then these questions may seem silly to you. And if so, double gold stars for you! But if you’re new(ish) on the whiskey scene (like me) these are some extremely valid queries.

What Defines a Whiskey?

Whiskey is a type of distilled beverage that is made from fermented grain mash. Various grains –  some malted, some not – include corn, rye, barley and wheat. Whiskey can be made from any combination of these grains, or simply a single grain. Whiskey is traditionally aged in wooden casks, although it doesn’t have to be. For example, our Smoked Corn Whiskey is a type of unaged whiskey, made from fermented smoked corn and malted barley. It’s unaged quality lacks the oak and woody notes of a common whiskey, but it gives an unconventional smokey, sweet and oily mezcal-like flavor, which is perfect for swapping in for tequila in a margarita. Personally I love it with a little bit of heat in a Jalapeno Margarita.

What Is Bourbon?

Bourbon is a specific classification of American whiskey. To legally be considered a bourbon, it must be aged in new, charred oak barrels, made with at least 51% corn, and made in the U.S. So you see, it’s kind of like squares and rectangles. Every bourbon is a whiskey, but not every whiskey is a bourbon. 

A major misconception about whiskies – especially bourbon – is that they have to be aged a specific amount of time. We’ll often have people ask if two years is required to call it bourbon. Interestingly enough, though, the distillate of a 51% minimum mash only has to be rested on oak to legally be known as bourbon. That means we can distill our corn whiskey, put in a barrel for 10 seconds, harvest it, and legally call it bourbon! (We obviously don’t do that.) If it ages for two or more years, it becomes “Straight Bourbon.”

What is Rye?

American rye whiskey, which, similar to bourbon, must be distilled from at least 51% rye grain and is aged in new charred oak barrels. If the rye whiskey has been aged for at least two years and has not been blended with other spirits may further be identified as a straight rye whiskey. Rye whiskey has historical roots in Pennsylvania and Maryland and has been undergoing a small but growing revival all over the US.

American Whiskey

American whiskey is pretty self explanatory. It’s whiskey made from a fermented mash of grains produced in the US. The primary sub classifications of American whiskey are bourbon whiskey, rye whiskey, rye malt whiskey, malt whiskey, wheat whiskey, and corn whiskey. All of these sub classifications are made with mashes with at least 51% of their names. And the list goes on… but for our purposes of this blog, we’ll save that conversation for another day. Perhaps our Head Distiller Mark and chime in with all the technicalities in an upcoming blog. 

Aged Whiskey Release August 15

Your favorite barrel-aged spirits are back at Tenth Ward August 15. Our signature Smoked Bourbon and Stouted Rye (two completely different but perfectly delectable spirits) return for a limited time.

All day from 12-10 pm we’ll have tastings, full pours, spirit flights, cocktails and bottles to-go. You can also pick up a bottle to-go by order online and pick up curbside. Order online here.

Tenth Ward Smoked Bourbon

Our signature Smoked Bourbon is made from corn grown and smoked in-house by our farmer 30 miles from Frederick in Charles Town, West Virginia, with barley grown and malted on the same farm. It’s then aged in brand new No. 3 Char American White Oak Barrels. This is our second batch of what we affectionately call our “newborn” style – aged for 5 months.  It has a super dreamy nose: Smokey and sweet. It has scotch-like tasting notes, with flavors of wood, caramel, a hint of smoke, campfire and oak on the finish.

Old Fashioned

  • 1.5 oz Smoked Bourbon
  • Orange bitters
  • Sugar cube
  • Cherry
  • Orange wheel

In a rocks glass, soak sugar cube with orange bitters, muddle. Add Smoked Bourbon and large ice cube. Garnish with orange wheel and cherry on a pick.

Gold Rush

  • 1.5 oz Smoked Bourbon
  • 0.75 oz lemon juice
  • 0.75 oz honey syrup

In a cocktail shaker, shake the ingredients with ice. Strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with lemon twist.

Whiskey Smash

  • 1.5 oz Smoked Bourbon
  • 0.5 oz simple syrup
  • 3 lemon wedges
  • Fresh mint

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the lemon wedges, mint and simple syrup. Add bourbon and ice, shake. Double strain into a rocks glass. Top with ice, garnish with lemon wedge and mint sprig.

Tenth Ward Stouted Rye

Alternatively, Stouted Rye is distilled with a mash bill of 70% malted rye and 30% malted barley. Much like our “newborn” bourbon, this batch was aged for four months in brand new No. 4 charred American White Oak and then finished with a month in Flying Dog Brewery Gonzo Imperial Porter barrels. The combination of chocolate-y malt from the barley with the porter beer barrels gives this delicious spirit jammy notes of plum, chocolate, malt with a brief boom of pepper in the center from the rye. It finishes dry and malty.


  • 2 oz Stouted Rye
  • 0.75 oz sweet or red vermouth
  • Dash of bitters

Shake with ice, strain into martini glass, garnish with cherry.

Classic Sour

  • 1.5 oz Stouted Rye
  • 0.75 oz lemon juice
  • 0.75 simple syrup

In a cocktail shaker, shake the ingredients with ice. Double strain into a rocks glass with a large ice cube. Garnish with lemon wedge.


  • 2  oz Stouted Rye
  • 0.25 oz simple syrup
  • 5 dashes aromatic bitters
  • 0.25 oz Absinthe Nouvelle

Rinse a rocks glass with absinthe, dump leftover absinthe. In a mixing glass, stir whiskey, simple syrup and aromatic bitters with ice. Strain into prepped rocks glass, fill with ice. Garnish with lemon twist.

We’ve been so focused on getting these (award-winning!) whiskies down on oak, we can’t wait for you to try them. And to answer another frequently asked question – for every barrel layed down for a “newborn” release we lay two down for multi-year aging. So stay tuned in the next few years for Tenth Ward’s Straight Bourbon and Straight Stouted Rye!

Get Ready Bottle Club Members


Are you a Bottle Club member? If so, feel free to give us a call at 301-360-5888 or send us an email at to pre-reserve your bottles today! 

If you’re not a Bottle Club member, you can learn more from our recent blog: Perks of Being a Bottle Club Member. You can sign up for FREE right here. Just make sure to fill out the form completely, enter your credit card information on our secure website, and you’ll be all set!

Xx Amanda