Is it Whisky or Whiskey?

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There are two things that are certain when it comes to whisk(e)y: America and Ireland spell it with an ‘e,’ and every other country spells it without. As the basis of many bar brawls it is important to understand the history behind the extra vowel to prevent any further quarrels revolved around the spirit.

Historically, the word whisk(e)y originates from the translations of the Scottish and Irish Gaelic forms, dating back hundreds of years. Whisk(e)y comes from the traditionally Irish translated forms of “uisce beatha” and the Scottish translated “uisge beatha”, which both directly translate into “water of life”. 

Geographically and a little easier to understand than century-old terms, Americans and Irish prefer ‘whiskey’ and the Scots, Canadians and the rest of the world’s single malt makers prefer ‘whisky’. This originated during the 19th century as in 1870 a time in which Scotch whisky was of very low quality due to it being distilled poorly in coffee stills. When the Irish exported their brew to the states they wanted their customers to be able to differentiate their product from the poorer Scotch whisky, thus they added the ‘e’ to mark the crucial distinction.

Discrepancies between the two whiskies come in one of the more integral aspects of any spirit: the distillation process. Scottish and American whiskies are distilled twice and Irish whiskey is distilled three times, with exceptions to the rule. One being Auchentoshan Whisky, which is distilled in Glasgow, Scotland – a little way from Ireland, but is a Scotch that is triple distilled, which is unusual for a Scottish distillery, and yet is spelled without the ‘e’. 

Thirdly, getting down to the nitty-gritty: the grain.  Scotch is a whisky originally made from malted barley, while bourbon is a type of American whiskey which is a barrel-aged distilled spirit that is made primarily from corn. Like every rule, there is the exception, and the exception here is Maker’s Mark Kentucky Bourbon. The family distillers went against the grain in more ways than one when creating the brand’s signature smooth, full-bodied flavour. 

While rye and corn was the go-to grain for whisky makers, Bill Samuels Sr., creator of Maker’s Mark, experimented with baking several loaves of bread with a soft winter wheat instead of distilling them, saving years of aging. This served to replace the unwanted bite of rye with the delicate sweetness that Maker’s Mark is known for today.

Maker’s Mark chooses the Scottish way to spell whisky, even though it is as American as it gets. This can of course cause confusion for those especially loyal to the notion of whisky vs. whiskey but the reasoning for the spelling in this instance comes down to one thing: heritage, as the Samuels family decided to pay homage to their Scottish-Irish heritage.

As the battle of the vowels draws to a close, it’s clearly up to several facts as well as heritage. There can only be one resolution and in this instance- there is a unanimous appreciation for the spirit, regardless of how the word is spelled. 

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Issue 64


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