Blog 135

Whisky or Whiskey?

So what is the real difference between whisky and whiskey?

If you’re like me, and before writing this blog, had a limited knowledge of whisky, or had an understanding but was confused by the different spellings, then you’re in the right place!

Although that pesky little ‘e’ may seem insignificant, there are a few key differences between whisky and whiskey, where it comes from and how it’s made.

Hopefully this post can simplify everything down into nice bite-size facts, so that if you ever find yourself in a bar witnessing a Scotsman and Irishman argue, you know who to back!

  • The difference in spelling is just a matter of different locations; whisky refers to the spirit distilled in Scotland and Japan, whereas whiskey represents Irish and American distillations. The “e” was taking to America by Irish immigrants in the 17th century.
  • The word whisky originates from the Scottish Gaelic “uisge beatha” meaning “water of life” or the Irish Gaelic “uisce beatha” depending on where you prefer/who you want to believe!
  • Scottish whisky (Scotch) is distilled twice. Irish whiskey is distilled three times.  The Irish will argue distilling three times makes a smoother spirit.
  • Whisky uses malted barley aged in oak barrels. For it to be classified as Scotch whisky, it has to be aged for at least 3 years. Malted barley is exported to Japan to be used in the whisky there. In America, you can find rye whiskey and bourbon. By law, rye whiskey has to be aged for 2 years and contain at least 51% rye. The rest can be made up of other grains. By law, bourbon has to be made up of 51% corn and sit in new barrels that don’t contain any additives.
  • Whisky uses peat during the distillation process. Whiskey rarely uses peat.
  • Whisky is distilled in a variety of stills – particularly in Japan. This provides a diversity of flavours. ‘Patent’ and ‘Coffey’ stills can be found in Scotland, however never in Ireland. According to the Irish they produce a characterless and silent spirit! Pot stills that are shorter, rounder and fatter are used for whiskey.
  • There is a lot of debate about whether the art of distilling whisky/ey originates from Ireland or Scotland. One rumour has it that Christian Irish monks bought with them the secrets of distilling from Arabia in 600 A.D. The Irish monks then took their findings over to Scotland. However, there is no official record of this. Another story tells that Friar John Cor had a tax record in 1494 for “VIII bolls of Malt”. This suggests that whisky production was already happening in Scotland during the 13th century.

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