The whiskey or whisky debate goes further than grammatical pedantry. Traditionally, Scotland, Canada and other single malt producers worldwide use the form ‘whisky’ for Scotch and its associated liqueurs, while Ireland and America go for whiskey. Scots, however, don’t tend to appreciate the appellation ‘whiskey’ for Scotch. Ultimately, both spellings refer to a distilled spirit of fermented grain.
How to spell whisky or whiskey
Both versions of the word are Celtic in origin, etymologically signifying water of life and linked to a variety of spirits. The process of distillation itself is originally attributed to the Arabs in the 8th century, despite being practiced in more primitive form on the subcontinent of India for over a thousand years previously. The Arabs and Persians applied chemical process to the technique, which led to the development of the word ‘alcohol.’
Both Ireland and Scotland are responsible for developing modern whisky distillation processes. The first mention of Gaelic whiskey comes from 1405, while the substance is first known of in Scotland in 1494, however it is known to have been in use during the 12th century invasion of Ireland by England’s King Henry II. There are some regional variations in the methods use to produce the drink, such as the Irish preference for three distillations, supposedly to develop a smoother flavour, rather than two in Scotland.
Do you know how to spell whisky?
One reason given for the difference in nomenclature goes back to the 19th century. Allegedly Scotch whisky wasn’t particularly good around the 1870s, so when exporting their product to America, Irish distilleries added the extra ‘e’ to the word to differentiate their higher quality product from its poorer Scottish equivalent. The change stuck, with only a few American distilleries now using the original Scottish spelling.
These days the distinction is important only in matters of national pride. For the sake of correctness, it makes sense to use one spelling or the other defined by the origin of the product, as there are a number of different kinds of whiskey or whisky. American style drinks such as bourbon, Tennessee and rye will therefore go by ‘whiskey’, but Canadian whisky is a rather different drink, as is Scotch whisky or Irish whisky.
However, most people are less concerned with how to spell whisky and more concerned about whether or not they like it served straight up or with ice, water or in any other combination of choice.