Neat or with ice? With a twist or not? True whiskey lovers tend to have strong opinions about their favorite way to serve their favorite drink.
But the genuinely heating debate involves the choice of the most important ingredient of all: the letter “E.”
Is there any real difference between whiskey and whisky, or is this just some watered-down grammar argument? From Scotch and single malt to bourbon and blends, the world of whisky is full of buzzwords and terms.
But one thing that causes a lot of confusion is the fact that the drink is sometimes spelled “whiskey” and other times “whisky.” So what, then, is the difference between whiskey and whisky?
What is Whiskey (or Whisky)?
Whiskey and whisky are described as amber-colored alcoholic drinks made from fermented (sometimes malted) grains, which may include barley, corn, wheat, and rye. The mixture is then aged in wooden barrels.
Initially used for medicinal purposes, whiskey (or whisky) eventually gained popularity as a drink for all moods. Although no one knows who invented it exactly, the first whiskey appeared in Scotland and Ireland around the 15th century.
However, the big question remains, what is the difference between whiskey and whisky? Why are some whiskeys spelled with an ‘e’ while others are spelled without? And the answer lies in their origin and types.
Meaning of Whisk(e)y
Is it “Whiskey” or “Whisky”? Whiskey and whisky (both pronounced “WISK-ee” in American English, with more emphasis on the “H” in other dialects) come from the Gaelic word “Uisge Beatha” (ISH-Kah-bah-hah), which means “Water of life.” Uisge implies water, while Beatha means life.
It is a term used over time for many types of refreshing alcoholic beverages, for example, Eau de Vie. It was shortened to uisge (ISH-Kah) in Scottish Gaelic and eventually to anglicized whisky.
In parts of Ireland, it has always been spelled whiskey, probably retaining the original term beatha. In modern usage, whisky is used from Scotland, and whiskey comes from Ireland.
Before the end of the 19th century, almost everyone spelled it whisky. But after a heated debate between Scottish and Irish distilleries over the proper composition of whiskey (the Scots used grain blends, the Irish did not), many Irish distilleries began writing whiskey with the traditional Irish “E” to differentiate their superior whisky product of the Scottish variety.
Yes, the marketing worked, and Irish whiskey quickly became more popular than whisky. Meanwhile, in North America, whiskey was America’s favorite drink.
Their love for whiskey began with Irish immigrants and inspired them to invent American whiskey, known as bourbon.
But by the turn of the 20th century, Canadian competitors were selling more whisky than American distillers. After the success of the Irish influence, most Americans started calling their drink whiskey, and it hasn’t stopped since.
It’s “Whisky” in Scotland, Canada, and Everywhere Else
If you are not in Ireland or the United States, write whisky. The most important place to remember this difference between whiskey and whisky is in Scotland, where it is a matter of law.
And don’t forget to write it whisky in Canada, the birthplace of the famous Crown Royal whisky and Canadian Fireball whisky.
India and Japan, another two major whisky producers, have also been influenced by Scottish whisky manufacturing practices.
Scotch whisky was the drink of choice for British soldiers stationed in India in the 19th century, which inspired the establishment of Indian whisky distilleries.
And with Masataka Taketsuru, known as the “father of Japanese whisky,” he studied whisky production in Scotland.
There are various whiskeys, different from each other depending on where they are produced, and the type of grain used to make them.
The alcoholic drink can be one of the most expensive in the world, with some rare bottles costing over a million US dollars.
The price of a bottle of whiskey is determined by several factors, including type and age. Generally, the older they are, the higher the price they command.
Scotch Whisky is always written without the e. It will officially be called Scotch Whisky if:
- The strong drink is aged in oak barrels for at least three years.
- Production and maturation must take place in Scotland.
- Single malt Scotch whiskey must be 100% barley malt.
Irish whiskey is always spelled with an e – this is the main difference between whiskey and whisky.
- Irish whiskey uses little or no peat, so there is generally no smokiness in these whiskeys.
- Irish whiskey may contain malt distillate, barley distillate, and grain spirit.
- Irish whiskey is triple distilled.
- Like Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey must mature for at least three years.
Should I Write “Whiskeys” or “Whiskies”?
When describing more than one whiskey (or whiskies), the spelling changes even more. But it’s not hard to remember if you know the basic rules of plural nouns.
If you’re in a whiskey-friendly country, you’ll spell it whiskeys, just adding an -s after the -ey. But if you spelled it whisky, you would change the “Y” to “-ies” to make it whiskey.
The difference may not seem to matter until you order a round of whiskeys (or whiskies) for the table. Even then, the words sound identical unless you write them.