What is the difference between ‘whisky’ and ‘whiskey’?

What is the difference between ‘whisky’ and ‘whiskey’?

Tomorrow is International Whisk(e)y Day, which is celebrated on 27 March every year. According to the official website, International Whisk(e)y Day is a “non-profit celebration of whisk(e)y which receives no funding and is run entirely by the passion of whiskey fans from around the world”.

International Whisk(e)y Day was founded in March 27, 2008 and officially launched in 2009 by a collective of whisk(e)y writers (including Charles MacLean, Dave Broom, Martine Nouet and Helen Arthur) to honour legendary whisk(e)y writer – the late Michael Jackson, and whisky fans are encouraged to donate money to charities of their choice, especially those for Parkinson’s Disease , which Jackson suffered with for many years.

And as you may have noticed, the day includes whiskies that are spelled ‘whisky’ as well as ‘whiskey’.

But why is there such a difference in spelling in the first place? Why is Scotch, Canadian and Japanese ones spelled ‘whisky’ while Irish and American ones are spelled ‘whiskey’?

To understand this, we first need to go back to the origin of the word ‘whisky’ in the first place, which comes from the Latin term for ‘alcohol’, aqua vitae (“water of life”). That in turn was translated into Old Irish as uisce beatha (“water of life”) and then to Scottish Gaelic as uisge beatha, and finally, to ‘whisky‘ in English.

Now, here’s where it gets a little hazy. No one really knows exactly why there is such a distinction between ‘whiskey’ and ‘whisky’, but one prominent theory is that each word could have been derived from the translation from the Scottish and Irish Gaelic forms. For some reason, the Scots decided to go without and ‘e’, while the Irish ‘went with the extra letter. And since there was an influx of Irish immigrants into the US in the 1700s, they took their version of the word there as well.

If you have problems remembering which region has an ‘e’ and which doesn’t, just remember this rule of thumb:

  • Ireland and America both have an ‘e’, so it is call ‘whiskey‘.
  • Scotland, Japan and Canada don’t have an ‘e’, so it’s ‘whisky‘.

 

Of course, with more and more countries starting to produce whisk(e)y, the lines are getting increasingly blur about the spelling of each. But this rule of thumb still holds true for the five major whisk(e)y regions.

Whichever way you spell it, however, let us all just raise a dram of whisk(e)y and toast to the great water of life!


Wholly Spirits currently stocks the following whisk(e)y brands:

SCOTCH MALT WHISKY SOCIETY

One of the world’s best independent bottlers of whisky, SMWS is a members-only whisky club founded in 1983, with 25,000 members in 20 countries all around the world. SMWS specialises in single cask whiskies, bottled at natural cask strength, un-chill-filtered, and with no added colouring. For more info or to sign up as a member, visit The SMWS Malaysia.

EILING LIM

Eiling Lim is Malaysia’s first independent bottler of whiskies, with a focus on choosing only the best of the best whiskies to bottle. Her oldest bottling to date is a 43-year-old from Ben Nevis distilled in 1970 and bottled in 2014.

MICHTER’S

Michter’s heritage harks back to America’s first whiskey company, making some of the finest single barrel and truly small batch whiskeys around, distilled to Master Distiller Pam Heilmann’s exacting specifications.

EVAN WILLIAMS

Named after the founder of Kentucky’s first commercial distillery, Evan Williams is the second largest selling Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey in the US and the world, and made with a time-honoured recipe, distilled and then carefully aged for a smooth and rich taste.

ELIJAH CRAIG

To know Elijah Craig is to know the history of bourbon. Known as The Father of Bourbon, he pioneered the process of aging whiskey in charred oak barrels, and today, the premium American whiskies that bear his name are made with the same method he used over 200 years ago, and recognised as the highest standard in American whiskey.

RITTENHOUSE

Produced by Heaven Hill, which also makes bourbons Evan Williams and Elijah Craig, Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey was named North American Whiskey of the Year at the 2006 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.