Whiskey vs. Whisky: The Origin Story
Have you ever wondered why some bottles of distilled alcoholic beverages made from fermented grain mash are called whiskey while others are called whisky? Are they “same, same but different” as the saying goes in Thailand? Or was there a massive screw-up at the printers back in the day and this has just been a typo that no one has bothered to correct?
Typos make me sad.
The thing is, no matter how you spell it, whisky or whiskey is just an umbrella term for a type of spirit distilled from a mash of fermented grains, as mentioned above.
Now, within the broader category of whisky or whiskey are numerous sub-categories, including bourbon, rye, Tennessee, Scotch, Irish, and Canadian style whiskies. Each is different from the other and while some may taste similar, true connoisseurs and ardent fans will tell you that there are subtle differences.
Let’s talk etymology, because we’re all fancy up in here. Both words are of Celtic origin, and modern whisky/whiskey distillation practices originated in Ireland and Scotland. The term ‘whisky’ comes from the Gaelic “usquebaugh” which in turn comes from the Scottish Gaelic “uisge beatha”, or the Irish Gaelic spelling “uisce beatha”. “Uisce” is Old Irish for ‘water’ and “beatha” means ‘of life’. Basically, whisky/whiskey is the ‘water of life’. The elixir of life, if you will. Pretty awesome for something that people drink with Coca-Cola.
And that’s one way to keep young, I guess.
Now on to the spelling controversy. The difference between whiskey and whisky is simple but important. Whisky usually denotes Scotch whisky and Scotch-inspired liquors, and whiskey denotes the Irish and American liquors.
Here’s a pro-tip.
When in doubt, remember the following:
Countries that have E’s in their names (United States and Ireland) tend to spell it whiskey (plural whiskeys).
Countries without E’s in their names (Canada, Scotland, and Japan) spell it whisky (plural whiskies).
And now you know.