Rye lovers say the whiskey is spicier, edgier and less sweet than bourbon, which is made of corn. But few studies have actually looked at what makes American whiskeys unique — how fermenting rye versus corn changes the taste, aroma and mouth feel of the spirit.
Chemist Thomas Collins is trying to fill in those blanks. He and his team at the University of California, Davis, have analyzed the flavor profiles of about 70 American whiskeys, including 38 bourbons and 10 ryes.
In many cases, Collins says, what matters the most for a whiskey's flavor isn't what grain is in the bottle but where the spirit was produced — and what other whiskeys are made at the distillery.