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What’s the Difference: Whiskey vs. Whisky

Whats The Difference Whiskey vs Whisky 023 Hero

As the weather continues to cool down through the fall season it’s about that time where our preferences for various spirits begin to change as well. No longer are we looking for refreshing mixed cocktails to help keep us cool and content on a hot afternoon nor are summer ales and lagers the preferred beverages of choice. Now, we begin to rely on warmth, whether it be fireside in a weekend cabin, by the campsite during a fall camping trip, or in the form of warming whisk(e)y any day of the week.

Here’s the tricky part. Anyone with a slight history of whisk(e)y research will notice something a bit odd – something that is unique to the spirit. We’re talking, of course, about the spelling of the word. From here, we find ourselves wondering whether or not there is, in fact, a right or wrong way to spell the word. Or, if the spelling based on where the booze was first distilled or even its etymology. Well, because we care so much about this subject, and finally want to get the facts straight ourselves, we decided it was about time to settle the score once and for all. So what’s the difference between whisky and whiskey? The answers may be simpler than you think.

Two Schools of Thought

Based on Region

In the beginning, the word whisk(e)y derived from both the Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic term “uisage berth,” meaning “water of life.” From here, whisk(e)y is originally thought to have been considered an elixir of sorts that breathed new life into those who drank it (odds are the local bartender will still support this notion). Also, in its early days, the Scottish version of this spirit was of low quality – partially because of the use of Coffey stills in their distillation as opposed to pot stills.

So, in response and because the Scottish spelled the spirit without the “e,” the Irish looked to differentiate themselves from the lower quality Scottish whisky by adding an “e” to the name. Thus, the term “whiskey” was born. Later on, it’s rumored that when the Irish immigrated to the United States they brought that spelling with them and appropriated it into our culture, hence the American preference for spelling the word with an “e.” But what about the likes of Maker’s Mark, Old Forester, and George Dickel you may ask? Well, it’s suggested that due to these distilleries’ Scottish ancestry they preferred spelling their whiskies in accordance with Scottish tradition.

Our Whiskey Pick: Whistle Pig Rye

Whistle Pig Rye Whiskey 01

As a premier brand of straight rye whiskey, each batch of Whistle Pig is made with a 100 percent rye mash bill – delivering a flavor profile unlike any other. Each delectable dram offers tasting notes full of clove, barrel char, mint and creamy caramels making this offering one excellent cold weather pour.

Purchase: $70

Two Schools of Thought

Based on Style

Another popular theory out there is that the spelling is attributed to a specific style of whisk(e)y. Meaning, American bourbons and rye whiskeys along with Irish whiskeys are reserved to feature the “e” in their names while other styles such as Scotch and Japanese blended and single malts – along with blended Canadian whiskies – leave the “e” out of their names. We really find more evidence of this schism beginning in the 1960s, when the majority of American writers adopted “whiskey” as the correct form (up until that time differing opinions were the status quo).

Our Whisky Pick: Hibiki 12-Year

Suntory Hibiki Whisky 01

Complex and simply delicious, this award-winning whisky is aged in plum wine barrels resulting in a fruity and one-of-a-kind profile you simply can’t ignore. Here, it’s the rich combination of stewed fruits, clove, oranges, oak, apple and citrus that delight the palate; finishing bright and persuading you for at least one more sip.

Purchase: $130+

A Middle Ground

How It's All Connected

If you ask us, these two opinions need not exist as two separate ideas. Instead, we’re of the assumption they’re two sides of the same coin. That is, the spelling was directly influenced by the initial regions of distillation which then led to the acceptance of the spelling when crafting regional variants of the same recipe. Meaning, with such a heavy Irish influence in the early years of the US – and therefore whiskey distillation – our pioneered variants of the spirits (bourbon, rye, and Tennessee) were therefore dubbed whiskey rather than whisky. Same goes for other regions of the world where the Irish had less of an influence on the culture.

So, is there a right and wrong way to spell the word whisk(e)y? In so many words, yes. It just depends on what type of whisk(e)y you’re referencing. Here’s a good rule of thumb to remember: If it’s produced in the United States or Ireland it gets an “e” anywhere else it’s spelled Whisky – with a couple exceptions of course. Got it? Good. Now, how about a drink?

Next Question: What’s The Difference Between Bourbon vs. Whiskey?

From here, let’s bring things back home for a little primer on the difference between American bourbon and regular whiskey.If this sounds even more complicated, don’t worry. We broke it down for you into digestible sips.