Rye and wheat whiskeys are two very different sides of the same coin. The law requires that bourbon be made from at least 51% corn, the rest of this mash is largely at the discretion of the distiller, but is usually made from barley, wheat, and rye. High rye-wheat bourbons are bourbons that rely heavily on rye or wheat to achieve their desired result, and people tend to have fierce opinions about which they prefer.
Heavier rye whiskeys are deeply aromatic, with heavy flavors of baking spices and fruit, and have a reputation for being rustic and bold. Rye bread lovers will probably love a good bourbon with a high rye content, since the wheat is replaced with rye, which comprises 20-35% of these bourbons. Jim Beam, Four Roses, Old Gran Dad Bonded Bourbon and Bulleit Straight are some of the most highly regarded high rye offerings.
Wheat bourbons, on the other hand, are much mellower, with herbaceous and mineral aromas. These whiskeys tend to be sweeter, what many novice drinkers call “smooth” – a phrase we find grossly overused. Notable wheat bourbons are Maker’s Mark, Larceny, Pappy Van Winkle, and WL Weller.
So the question is really which one prefers: loud and proud rye or soft and shy wheat?