Whiskey in the jar, or whisky in the jar. You decide.
Have you ever looked at a menu and seen ‘whisky’ and ‘whiskey’ in quick succession and wondered how such an obvious typo could be made? Well turns out, it's no mistake, the different spellings actually hold a lot of meaning about the product itself.
Generally speaking, whiskey (or whisky) refers to the range of distilled liquors which are made by fermenting a mash of cereal grains which are then aged in wooden containers, usually oak barrels. Most of the time the base grains include corn, wheat, rye and barley malt but there are some factors which set each liquor apart. The combination of grains, distilling process and location all decide whether the name of the final product earns the extra ‘e’.
Whisky as a word is derived from the Gaelic word ‘usquebaugh’ which is made up of two parts. ‘Uisge’ means water and Beatha means ‘life’, making the compound word, ‘water of life. The difference began when the 1800s Scottish whisky was comparatively poor quality and Irish producers wanted to make their product stand out. In modern usage, whisky is from Scotland and whiskey is from Ireland.
Outside of the Irish version, you’ll most often see the spelling ‘whiskey’ in reference to American-made varieties such as Bourbon or Tenessee whiskey. In contrast, Scotland, Canada, and Japan favour the ‘whisky’ spelling to differentiate the type of product. The number of times a whisk(e)y gets distilled is at the core of this spelling difference. In the USA and Scotland, it’s likely to be distilled twice whereas Irish whiskey is distilled three times before the ageing process.
The term Scotch however is a whole other ball game. This whisky (no ‘e’) is known for its smoky flavours thanks to the process which is used to make it. The grain, primarily barley, is malted and then heated over a peat fire and these steps are protected by UK laws governing the definitions of how it's marketed. Regulations state that a whisky can’t be called Scotch unless it's made using these specific processes as well as being entirely produced and bottled in Scotland.
If you were to delve deeper into the world of whiskey, you’d likely come across an infinite number of nuances, flavour profiles, processes and factors that make each blend unique. But when it comes to the simple matter of spelling it right, all you have to know is where it comes from.