There’s Only 3 General Bourbon Mash Bill’s Y’all – THREE

People are always asking me what the exact recipes for bourbons.  Some distillers keep their recipes a family secret; and why not?  I mean it IS theirs.  Some distilleries will tell ya, like Four Roses or Maker’s Mark.  But when it comes down to it, does 1% more rye or corn there make a difference?  Well of course it does to that distiller, but flavor wise, I say it really doesn’t.  Now THAT’S a bold statement.  Did you hear me?  I’M SCREAMING IT!!!

Well of course it makes a differnce…but the recipe is just one of many pieces of the puzzle to making bourbon and rye whiskey.  The recipe is crucial, but what yeast strain are you using?  Are you using one at all or just using a dry yeast, are you using a jug yeast, a family jug yeast?   Then what proof you bring it off the still?   What’s the barrelling proof?  Where you store it in the rack house and for how long?  What’s the bottling strength and do you cold chill filter it?  All are good questions…So that’s my argument.  All bourbons fall in to 3 general bourbon recipes.  A Traditional, a High Rye, and a Wheat.  Then there are recipes for Straight Rye Whiskies.

Check out the article on this site about the “DISTILLERS RULE OF THUMB” and that will explain what recipes, yearst steains, etc.  lend to the final outcome.

So here I’ve made it easy, and listed the Grains we use and what they contribute.  The recipes and what you can expect from them.  How the barrel and aging effects the bourbon, and then the bourbons that fall in to those 3 general recipes.  I hope you find it helpful when finding your common denominator for your favorite bourbons.  Enjoy!


Grains and what they contribute

This information was gathered by me from many sources; Whisky Magazine. Malt Advocate, and talking with several master distillers.

Corn  – Is what gives Bourbon it’s signature flavor and is considered the “engine” that provides the highest yield of alcohol per bushel of all the grains.  The flavor of corn is very prevalent fresh off the still in the White Dog.  But over years of aging, corn becomes neutral, and lends mostly in the over all sweetness to the finished product. 

BarleyPrized mainly for it’s enzymes for converting starches to sugar for the fermentation process so the yeast can feed on the sugars.  Where corn is the “engine”, malted barley is considered the “work horse” that delivers these enzymes.  Barley provides some flavor with the underlying malty and chocolate notes along with some dryness.  Usually only around 5% – 14% of any grain bill, the use of barley is mainly for those enzymes, and gives it that biscuity texture.

Rye & Wheatcontribute most significantly to the flavor of mature bourbon.  They are referred to as the “flavoring grains”.   Any grains can be used like oats, or rice, but these two are only ones used, with Rye being the dominant flavoring grain with distillers. 

Rye- brings a range of spice notes including pepper, nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon which are all intensified during the aging process.  Think of eating a piece of rye bread.  Rye gives bourbon that wonderful flavorful “bite” that it is known for. 

WheatWheat results in a sweeter tasting bourbon, but not because the grain is sweeter.  Wheat is not as rich as rye so it allows more of the sweetness of the corn and vanilla to show through, compared to rye.


The Three Recipe’s or Mash Bill’s in bourbon 

Traditional Bourbon Recipe (my term, not industry’s)70-80% corn –with the balance rye and some barley.  Think of sweet and spicy, back of the tongue experience.  Bourbon can be up to 100% corn, but corn becomes neutral during aging only keeping the sweetness, so a flavoring grain of rye is used, and of course the barley for converting those starches in to sugar, and that biscuity quality and hints of chocolate.

High Rye Bourbon Recipe18% + rye – dials back on the corn, keeping basically the same amount of barley as a Traditional Bourbon, but doubles up on the rye.  Rye is a back of the tongue experience, and gives it that nice white pepper spice like a slice of rye bread.  These bourbons will be less sweet and more spicey. 

Wheat Bourbon Recipe70-80% corn – similar to Traditional, but replace the rye with wheat.  Wheat allows the sweetness of the corn, and the sugars from the barrel to be more pronounced.  Think “soft and sweet”, with a front of the tongue experience.

                                                                                                     Barrels and Aging 

The recipe is the soul of the bourbon, and the Barrel and aging provide varying flavors depending on how long it is aged for, and what type of warehouse, and the location of those barrels inside a rack house.  Barrel aging is responsible from anywhere between 50% to up to 75% of the final flavor of a bourbon depending on where the barrel is stored and for how long.  

There are six different types of vanillas you get from a barrel.  And it takes a good six years to get bold vanillas out of a barrel.  So younger bourbons will not have pronounced vanillas.  Bourbons 6 years or more will have more pronounced vanillas. 

Resulting barrel notes are: vanilla, maple, caramel, ginger, clove, toffee, cinnamon, fruits and toasted nuts.

High Rye Bourbon Recipes

Old Grand Dad            Basil Hayden’s             Four Roses                   Bulleit

Very Old Barton           Kentucky Tavern           1792                         Old Forester Woodford Reserve

 Wheat Bourbon Recipes

W.L. Weller                 Maker’s Mark                                        *Bernheim Wheat Whiskey is a

Old Fitzgerald             Van Winkle                                              straight wheat whiskey (at least

Rebel Yell                    Larceny                                                    51% wheat) – it is not a wheat bourbon.


Traditional Bourbon Recipes – EVERYTHING ELSE including

Jim Beam                     Evan Williams               Booker’s                      Wild Turkey

Knob Creek                 Eagle Rare                    J.T.S. Brown               

Elijah Craig                  Buffalo Trace                Old Crow                     Heaven Hill


 Straight Rye Whiskey Recipes 

Straight Rye Whiskey Recipe – 51-100% Rye – A Traditional industry standard usually includes corn/barley mix like a traditional bourbon, but majority grain is rye instead of corn.  Rye whiskey can be up to 100% rye, but some distillers argue you should have at least 6% or more of barley malt to ensure the conversion of starches to sugars so the yeast can convert those sugars to alcohol.  Otherwise, additional enzymes need to be added to the recipe to help with that conversion, so 100% to 94% rye whiskies will need that help.

Those rye whiskies that are 100% rye typically come from Canada, since they make 100% rye for their blended whiskey.  But remember that they are blending that 100% rye in with a 100% malt whiskey and a 100% corn whiskey.  So rye is sort of regional in taste profile.  Canadians like a softer, lighter whiskey so they blend it with other whiskies, but they refer to their whiskey as “rye” even though it’s not a true rye.  But they make 100% rye whiskey, so some new brands here in the U.S. are sourcing it from them as rectifiers here in the states. 

Pennsylvania Rye back in the day probably consisted of mostly rye with a little corn in it.  They distilled what grains grew in their region.  Goerge Washington made rye whiskey at Mount Vernon with the mash bill of 60% rye, 35% corn, and 5% barley.  We know this from the records his distiller, James Anderson kept.  So ryes that moved to Virginia and then Kentucky went from the very high in rye content of the Canadian and Pennsylvania or Monongahela style, to more corn and barley being added, simply because those are the grains that are prevelent in those areas.  Today barley is used because of the coveted enzymes that are needed to convert those strarches to sugars the yeast can feed on and make alcohol.  Corn adds a little sweetness.  Whatever rye style you enjoy, know why, and where it came from, and it might help you identify your common denominator.


Straight Rye Recipes – from 51% on up to 100% – (Traditional unless noted)

Jim Beam                     Old Overholt                High West                                                        Wild Turkey

(ri)1                              Rittenhouse                   Bulleit (95% rye/5% barley)                          Templeton

Michter’s                      Sazerac                        Whistle Pig (100% rye)                                  Old Potrero

And all other brands that are straight rye whiskies

About bernie
-Whiskey Professor for Heaven Hill -2009 and 2012 Icons of Whiskey Award Winner - Whiskey Ambassador of the Year US and Global

60 Comments on There’s Only 3 General Bourbon Mash Bill’s Y’all – THREE

  1. Hello, thanks for the write up. I am a Wild Turkey 101 fan. I want to try my hand. What would be the mash bill for a 5 gal run….any idea? I know a charred white oak barrel for 6 years is a start….just don’t want to find out 6 years later its a dud.

    Thanks Mark

    • Try any recipe you’d like, but make sure it has at least 51% of corn in it Mark. Most mash bills have 65% to 80% corn in them, and then tinker with the rye and barley. Keep in mind that you need at least 10% malted barley to convert the starches in to fermentable sugars. Also keep in mind that you need much more than 5 gallons of mash to produce any bourbon. In a 40,000 gallon fermentor, we only yield about 6,000 gallons of bourbon!

      • general rule….how much water per pound of grain?

        • I’m not sure. Anyone?

        • 1.25 – 1.5 quarts of water per pound

          • Ryan C. Hagan // January 21, 2014 at 1:36 pm //

            35 gallons water per distillers Bushnell of grain (56 lbs) is a good place to start as a beginner. However some commercial distilleries go as low as making a 28 gallon beer but without the use of chemicals such as amalase for the average person this mix will be to thick and will congeal.

            Even commercial distilleries don’t go as low as Walt suggested. You have got to watch out who you take advice from in these columns there are plenty of people that don’t have a clue about what they are talking about but still love to answer questions.

  2. Phill Tanner // February 19, 2012 at 6:45 pm // Reply

    Is there any sugar used in the mash and if so how much?

    How much product would you expect to get out of 100# of grain?


    • I didnt’ see this question til now, sorry.
      We don’t use any sugars. Moonshiners often use sugar since grains are expensive and it takes longer to cook and then they’d have to use malted barley, or commercial enzymes to convert the starches from the grains to fermentable sugars.

      Hard to answer that question about the 100 pounds of grain, it depends on your recipe. You get the most amount of starch from corn. Rye and barley have a little starch, but it mostly comes from the corn. You get your most alcohol yield from corn. I can tell you that from 40,000 gallons of fermented beer, we yield about 6,000 gallons of bourbon.

    • what type of rye do I use?

  3. Great informaation! If most professional bartenders knew this they could make great cocktails instead of pretending they knew what they are doing. And quit shaking my damn Manhattan!

    • Thanks, and love it! A proper Manhattan should also have bitters, and always be stirred, UNLESS the customer requests it shaken. But those of us that love Manhattans like them stirred thankyouverymuch! So much more of a well balanced Manhattan, and a much more presentable looking cocktail!

    • I just schooled one LAST night on stirring and not shaking…I caught in JUST before he was going to do it..WHEW!!!!! a close one…no way to treat Old Grand Dad Bonded at all!

  4. I am sure you have seen the hype on the new Jack Daniels un-aged Rye “White Dog” coming out in the spring, 70% rye, 18% corn and 12% malted barley.. Many believe it’s the forerunner to a “to be released at a later date” all Rye whiskey.
    I am waiting for the distiller that can balance a rye and wheat. I would love to find a “sweet” bourbon with just a touch of rye bite.

    • Ken,

      I heard of it, and Dickel is coming out with a rye too….I have a few suggestions for you then….Go out and get a bottle of MELLOW CORN – it’s the only straight corn whiskey that’s also Bottled In Bond…its 80% corn, 10% barley and 10% rye…aged in a used bourbon barrel, so it’s NOT bourbon, it’s corn whiskey but I think you’ll love it…it’s also under $15, so thats a nice bonus. Have you tried Bernheim Wheat Whiskey? it has no rye in it, but it’s also a one of a kind in the only straight Wheat Whiskey out there on the market. Enjoy, and let me know if you like the Mellow Corn…

      Stay Bonded


  5. Above, it says most recipes use 5-14% barley. In a comment, you say it must have at least 10% to convert the starches to sugars. If one only uses 5 or 6%, will it not produce enough sugars, or does sugar have to be added?

    • If it contains a low % of malted barley, (under 10% according to Parker Beam at Heaven Hill anyway) then you will not get the proper conversion of those starches that have been broken down in the cook turned in to fermentable sugars…so you will have to add commercial enzymes to finish the conversion process….this is another ingredient…Most distillers would like to use the enzymes in the malted barley. Using commercial enzymes would be cutting corners in their opinion.

    • Ryan C. Hagan // January 21, 2014 at 1:49 pm // Reply

      All commercial distilleries use enzymes such as amalase to convert starch to sugar if they tell you that they don’t they’re lying. But also don’t forget that you don’t just throw these grains into water and add yeast you have to cook your mash first.

      • I know at Heaven Hill and at Jim Beam where I have worked that we only use the enzymes created by the malted barley for the amalase for conversions. I know Eddie and Jimmy Russell and all the other major bourbon distilleries do not. Parker and Craig Beam and others use at least 10% malted barley to achieve this. If a distillery is using less than 10% then you are exactly right my friend, they are using additional commercial enzymes. I’m always asking master distillers and distillery managers about this…I think it’s a big point of differenciation.

  6. Why did you list Woodford Reserve as a traditional bourbon recipe and Old Forester as a high rye recipe? Don’t they have the same mash bill?

    • Great catch….I did that since they use a third distillation on their pot stills, and come off the still at 158 on the third distillation….so even with the recipe being the same, I think that should be differentiated from Old Forester. You might not agree, but that was a call that I made on that…

  7. You do not need 10% malted barley in your grain bill. Lots of distilleries make 100% Rye Whisky with no enzymes. You get a lower ABV beer so less yield. This is why big company distillers are boring, its about running a business not about the “best” they can make.

    • Parker and Craig Beam insist on using at least 10%…Parker’s been doing this for 52 years, so I’ll put my money on him. The only “big” distiller that I know that’s NOT using at least 10% is MGP Ingredients/LDI in Lawrenceburg, IN. They use 5% in a couple recipes…and am told that they need to add commercial enzymes to make up for it to get the proper conversion…I’m not a distiller, but I’m lucky to have access to distillers that have been around distilling a good long time.

  8. why did you delete my post?

    • I never deleted it…just took me a while to approve it…I keep forgetting to do that…ha thanks for the comment…always makes it a lively discussion.

  9. Is Rye and weat ever combinded?

    • It’s been tried…Woodford did a 4 grain bourbon a few years ago in their “Master’s Collection”. The distilleries that use both wheat and rye I would guess have tried that experiment before, and if it was promising we’d have seen it. My experience has been, that if you can think of it, the distilleries have probably tried it.

  10. Fantastic article! I’m bookmarking your site so I can have a look around when I have more time. Love the name WhiskeyProf!

    • SORRY for the delay in responding Jake. Still new to this format, and keeping up with it all…but THANKS SO much for the feedback. Hope to see you here often! #StayBonded!

  11. Malted barley gives enzymes and also flavour? What about using malted wheat or malted millet instead? Would they give enzymes and flavour at the same time or should they be just added as plain unmalted grain for this purpose with some malted barley for the enzymes? Thanks, nico

    • Sorry for the delay in responding….You are correct, they will give enzymes in malting any grain, but not as efficient as malted barley. #StayBonded!

  12. I have read elsewhere that there are two widely used rye whiskey mash bills: one with 51 percent rye and the other with 65 percent rye. Is this difference significant? Which does Heaven Hill use for Rittenhouse and Pikeville?

    • Sorry for the delay in responding…We use 51% rye and 10% malted barley in Rittenhouse and Pikeville…I can’t tell you how much corn since that’s a family secret (That stumps us here in KY). The more Rye you add, the more spice, and less corn, so less sweet. Parker and Craig like the balance in sweet/spice with their recipe. And don’t forget that corn is where the alcohol comes from, not so much the small grains. The less corn, the less yield.

  13. Dan Colley // May 31, 2014 at 2:55 am // Reply

    I’m confused (but don’t be surprised because I stay confused a lot of the time). In your write up above, you say that traditional bourbon whisky recipes contain 70%-80% corn, the rest rye with some barley” Then, when examining the high rye recipe, you say that the recipe should contain 18%+ rye. This makes no sense to me. If traditional bourbon contains 20% rye then to put 18% rye does not represent an increase in the rye content. Would you please go through the three recipes and give some percentages that are a bit more narrow so that a soft-headed person like me can do the math? I would be beholdin’ to you.

    • Sorry for the confusion…I probably wrote it so that it created the confusion in the first place. So like here at Heaven Hill, or recipe is 78% corn, 12% malted barley, and 10% rye. That’s a traditional recipe as described, and most others are similar. I define high rye as 18% or more of rye, but still uses the majority of corn in the recipe as dictated by law. There’s only a handful of what I define as HIGH RYE as 18% or more in the recipe of rye.

      Stay Bonded

  14. Holy crap! This is so much fun and informative. // June 18, 2014 at 3:34 pm // Reply

    Holy crap ! This is so much fun and informative.

  15. Holy crap ! This is so much fun and informative.

  16. I am sorry I am a neophyte in this area but would still like to try. I want to try corn,rye, malted barely, do I need yeast?

    • Yeast is needed to feed on the sugars in fermenting to make alcohol. In the case of whiskey, you need to get a low proof “Distiller’s Beer” and you do this by adding yeast to the mash in the fermentation process.

  17. Four Roses claims only 5% malted barley in their two mashbills: Are these then likely using commercial enzymes for starch to sugar conversion? Thanks!

    • That’s a good question. According to the distillers I’ve asked, with only 5% they would most likely have to. But that’s a question I’ll have to ask Jim Rutledge myself. I’ll pose that to him (in a diplomatic way of course) at Whiskey Fest in New York and find out for you and me.

  18. I’m getting ready to make my first batch of bourbon. I have a 1/2 gal medium char oak barrel (very small). How long can I age the bourbon in this little fella?? I’m worried about evaporation,leakage etc. Any suggestions?? Thanks

    • Small barrels will age quicker, and of course you’ll have evaporation, but with small little fella’s like that, you should give it a taste like every week, and see where the sweet spot is.
      You’ll have fun doing it, and learn over time what works best with it.

      Have fun, and #StayBonded

  19. Hey guys,
    been tampering with a shine recipe that is kick ass that I let soak in some American white oak medium toasted chips proofed it at 100 and it is some good stuff. Corn,malted barley,sugar,secret ingredient and a natural yeast. Abv is usually around 12% after 8 days. Very palatable stuff

  20. Like the post good info. What is a good yeast to use? I heard turbo’s give a bad taste. And that bread yeast work great. Is bread yeast good to use like fleischmann ? Also wanted to make a mash using a ratio of 60% corn 25% wheat and 15% barley malt. Should I change any of this? Can one mixed wheat and rye together or would the taste contradict each other?

    • I’m not a distiller, but if you go to you can get some great input and information. That’s the AMerican Distilling Institute’s website. From talking to our distiller’s I’d use more corn…wheat really doesn’t bring a lot to the table, and corn really helps with your yield. that 15% barley is spot on! We use 70% corn, 20% Wheat, and 10% barley in our Old Fitz/Larceny recipe.

  21. Every summer the local farmers grow some great sweet corn. Is it possible to make a whiskey from raw corn? Love your site. R

    • Not sure what you mean by “raw” corn. We use last season’s crop….the grains are put in to silos and they have to be a certain moisture content in order to grind in to flour. We use #2 feed corn…contains the most starch for what we need to mash with.

  22. I just found this site and love it !!!! Can you tell me about Elmer T. Lee, including their Single Barrel?

    Thank You & keep up the great posts!!!

    • Well sure…Elmer T Lee was a legendary distiller who we just lost not too long ago. His single barrel is one of the best out there, if you can ever find it. But you can go to and learn all about him and his whiskey.

  23. Kinichi Ohmuro // August 21, 2015 at 8:24 am // Reply

    How about 100% rye malt whiskey? Are there any malted rye whiskeys?

  24. so after reading all the comments i didnt see anything about malted rye. can this come into play instead of malted barley or do you have to have the barley?

    • You can use Malted Rye….it’s just that Malted Barley has the best amount of enzymes…best bang for the buck.

  25. Since the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask, are these percentages measured by weight or volume? And how much would it take to produce a gallon?

    • No dumb questions….and the grains are milled in to a flour, and then it’s weighed. A bushel of grain will yield about 2 gallons at 190 proof….we bring the distillate off at 135 proof, so that might be about a gallon…just by eyeballin it.

  26. D. C. Mancini // October 15, 2015 at 8:54 pm // Reply

    Small craft distillers are starting to make some more unusual mash bills for Bourbon, often with higher levels of corn, or even all corn, or special corn. For the latter, Balcones with blue corn or J.Henry with red corn. Quincy Street makes Laughton Bros., a straight with 84% corn and just malts (barley and rye).

  27. Thanks for the great blog! As bracing as a sip of bourbon. “Build” my Manhattan right in the glass with ice , just a swish of the bar spoon after the cherry is dropped in.

  28. hmmmmm Not sure I understand your question, but you must use at least 51% corn for a bourbon, and then of that 49% “other stuff” at least 10% of that should be malted barley so you get a complete conversion of the starches released in the mash to turn to fermentable sugars. Then of that 39% other stuff, it can be more corn (most recipes call for at least 70% to 80%) and either wheat, rye, or other grains.

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