Whisky vs whiskey – the differences explained

45 Comments on Whisky vs whiskey – the differences explained

Whisky flags

Ever wondered why distillers can’t agree on one basic thing: how to spell the liquid they make? Take a look at your drinks cupboard now, and it’s likely there’ll be at least one bottle with the word ‘whisky’ on it. But you may well find another with ‘whiskey’ clearly visible. They can’t both be right, can they?

The reason for this verbal anomaly relates to image and status. Back in the 19th century, Irish whisk(e)y was seen as superior to the general quality of Scotch being made at the time. The people in Ireland who distilled the stuff weren’t keen on sub-standard Scotch whisky doing their reputation no good at all, particularly over in America. So, to distinguish their liquid from Scotch, Irish distillers decided to add an ‘e’ to their whisky, and ‘whiskey’ was born.

And with the influx of Irish immigrants to the States, spelling it ‘whiskey’ caught on over there, too (but not in Canada, where they use ‘whisky’). American law-makers make no distinction, so distillers aren’t obliged to label their whiskey as ‘whiskey’. Most do, however, although Maker’s Mark and George Dickel both choose to label their bottles as ‘whisky’, as do the likes of Balcones and Old Forester.

Here’s a simple way to remember how the main whisky-producing countries spell it:
whiskey/whiskeys – countries with an ‘e’ in their name – Ireland, United States
whisky/whiskies – countries without an ‘e’ – Scotland, Japan, Canada, India

There’s just one another issue to settle: the plural form. At The Whisky Exchange, we have come up with a rule guaranteed to end all confusion. We hope.

• if we’re talking about a collection of whisky that includes some from all over the world, we use whiskies.
• if we’re only talking about whiskey from Ireland and/or the US, then it’s whiskeys.
• if you insist on using the term whiskys, then we are no longer your friend.

So, hopefully now you know your whisky from your whiskey and your whiskies from your whiskeys.

Posted in Irish Whiskey, Japanese Whisky, North American Whisk(e)y, Scotch Whisky, WHISKY & WHISKEY


The Paddy Centenary is spelled “whisky” like in the old days of Cork Distillers. As one company owned all the distilleries in Ireland until recently, I suppose they had a monopoly(e)y on the spelling too.

Glen Price says:

This is an issue that requires extensive taste testing research. I am happy to volunteer my services, and taste buds, in the pursuit of knowledge and information in this endeavor.

1bigal says:

Interesting, except that England with an obvious “E” in the name does not put an “e” in whisky on the bottles of St George 😉

[…] unlike other North American whiskeys, there’s no E in Canadian whisky. Head over to our post about spelling if you want to know […]

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