Have you ever wondered why you find this word with two different spellings and in different contexts? Are “whiskey” and “whisky” just two different spellings of the same word, or are they two different words describing two different distilled spirits?
We can describe whisky as an alcoholic distilled beverage made from fermented grain mash. Among the grains that can be used, we can find rye, wheat, malt, barley and corn. Later on it goes through an ageing process in wooden barrels, traditionally white oak casks.
Then, why the difference?
If we go back in history, all the whisky was spelled without the “e”, that is “whisky”. Around 1870 Scottish whisky had a very poor quality. This is why Irish and American distilleries decided to spell their own “whiskey” with an “e” proving thus that the whiskey they produced was of better quality than the Scottish one.
Nowadays, “whisky” is used to refer to those whiskies distilled in Scotland, Wales, Japan and Canada, whereas “whiskey” is the term used in the United States and Ireland. Even though the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives issued a directive in 1968 specifying that the correct form in the United States should be “whisky”, most American producers even nowadays use the historic spelling ignoring thus this issue.
The spelling is highly important for the different producing countries as could be seen when the prestigious New York Times used the word “whiskey” – spelled with an “e”- without taking into consideration the origin of the distilling country. They were object of so many criticisms that they had to rectify and accept naming each distilled spirit in accordance with its producing area.
Here is a little trick so that you can remember easily how to spell it correctly.
• Those countries containing an “e” in their spelling (United States and Ireland) use the “whiskey” spelling.
• Those countries not containing an “e” in their spelling (Canada, Scotland and Japan) use the “whisky” spelling.
Anyhow, no matter the spelling, the plural form will always be “whiskies” in both cases.