Whisky or Whiskey – What is the difference?Written by David MasifonPosted on 05 12, 2017
George Bernard Shaw emphatically said that “Whisky is liquid sunshine” and in like manner, an Irish saying goes “What butter and whiskey won’t cure, there is no cure for.”
Of course we all know that the sun has therapeutic powers, obviously so does whisky – which make the two quotes lovely for a drink quite as lovely right? But did you notice the difference in the spelling? One has an “e” and the other is without it.
So what is the difference between “whisky” and “whiskey”?
Is it the distillation process? Is it the alcohol content? Are they just two different spellings of the same word?
Surprisingly, the difference is not far fetched, it lies simply in the words themselves. The difference is just the letter “e”.
Why is it so? The difference in spelling is only there because of the origin of a particular bottle of whisky. Or should we say whiskey?
The Scots spell it whisky and the Irish spell it whiskey, with an extra ‘e’ – the difference in the spelling emanating from the translations of the word from the Scottish and Irish Gaelic forms.
Whiskey is also used when referring to American whiskeys – the ‘e’ taken by Irish immigrants in the 1700s to the United States.
Whisky, without the e, is also the normal spelling of the word in Great Britain, Canada, and Japan, the plural of which is whiskies.
Notice something tricky about the difference in spelling? The countries with “E’s” in their names, like the United States and Ireland spell it as whiskey; the countries without “E’s” in their names, like Scotland, Canada, and Japan, spell it as whisky.
More than just the spelling difference, distillation too.
The difference between whisky and whiskey also extends significantly to the distillation processes.
While Scots and the Americans put the beverage through a double distillation process, Irish whiskey is distilled three times (there are exceptions to the rule, in all cases). A third distillation means the drink comes out smooth and lighter.
Also, the stills used for distillation are different in shape and sizes. In America and Ireland, short, fat, large stills with a round base called pot stills are used to produce a softer and more rounded spirits.
In Scotland, distilleries make use of a wide variety of shapes and size of still and this gives wider diversity of characters and flavours.
It is common in Scotland for distilleries to use peat to make the malted barley dry before milling and mashing. This is what gives the general fullness and traditional smokiness to Scot whisky. In America and Ireland, wood or other fuels are used in this process to make a spirit that is less smoky and lighter.
How about the grains?
In Scotland, malted barley is used in the production of most whisky, meanwhile in Ireland, malted barley may be used, but may also be mixed with other grains.
Because barley is more expensive in Ireland than in Scotland due to economic reasons, it is cheaper to use other grain to produce whiskey. This grain whiskey lends itself to blending and historically it has been used to make cheap blends.
In America, the new Irish settlers had to use different raw materials to produce their whiskey due to the different climate and soil conditions. This resulted in
mixing different grains together during the mashing process depending on what was available. Over time, these different recipes of grain mixtures have evolved so that now, American whiskey bears very little similarity to Scottish or Irish whiskies.
At the end of the day, irrespective of the distillation process, the grains used, or the whether peat is used or not, whisky/whiskey is still a delicious spirit.
And no matter how you spell it, it remains a finely distilled spirit made from grain mash.