Whisky or Whiskey: debunked

Whisky or Whiskey: debunked

So, what is the difference between whisky and whiskey? Is it just the spelling or is there more to separate these spirits?

The first term to exist - whisky (without an e) - derives from an old Gaelic word 'usquebaugh' meaning 'water of life'. It is a combination of 'uisge' meaning water and 'beatha' meaning life. The translation has, of course, been used to describe many drinks over time such as Aqua Vida or Eau de Vie.

The split into whiskey (with an e), however, came in the 1870s when Scotch wasn't doing so well and the Irish wanted to differentiate their spirit so as to protect sales, so they simply added an 'e'. The word sounds the same but is distinctly different.

Of course, this isn't the only thing that separates Irish Whiskey and Scotch Whisky. Irish whiskey is distilled three times, as opposed to the Scottish two, typically you will rarely find peat or smokiness in the Irish spirit, and while Single Malt Scotch has to be made of 100% malted barley, Irish can contain grain spirit.

The two terms, historically, 'belong' to different markets: Whisky (without an e) tends to encompass Scotland, Canada and Japan. Canada due to Scottish immigrants moving there in the discovery of new land and a new life, Japan because the two men who kicked off the Japanese whisky revolution were taught in Scotland so the method is very similar.

However, whiskey (with an e) encompasses the Irish and American markets. American because of the mass immigration of Irish people in the 18th Century (around the same time as the Scots emigrated in a Canada direction) who set up stills all over the country and carried over the name difference as well. So these days, Tennessee, Rye and Bourbon are all categorised as Whiskey.

But I'm afraid there's no more to the story than that - it was a clever marketing ploy by the Irish industry to separate it from its Scottish cousin... Though I think we can all agree now that Scotch Whisky has returned to the most exciting and tasty of them all!

After that I'm sure you could use a drink, head back to our shop and quench that thirst!

Comment 1

Fred Easton on

Loved this story. Thanks for sharing it with us all.

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