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.