Whiskey vs. Whisky – What’s the difference?

Is it simply a difference in the spelling? Or is there something deeper than that? Well, it’s a bit of both really. You see, ‘whiskey’ is the traditional spelling for any whiskey made in Ireland – in modern times, it is also how you spell whiskey from the US. On the other hand, whisky from Scotland is spelled without the ‘e’, as is whisky made in Canada, Japan or the rest of the world. 

But, beyond that, there’s a notable difference between Irish Whiskey and Scottish Whisky (also called Scotch): whiskey is conventionally triple distilled, while scotch is just distilled twice. 

In whatever way it’s spelled, the word whisky/ey is derived from a Celtic word ‘usqubaugh’, which in turn is an adaptation of the Latin ‘aqua vitae’, or ‘water of life’. The earliest record of whiskey-making is found in Irish records that date back to 1405 but the distillation process itself can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamia. As the rest of Europe focused on distilling grapes into brandy, the British Isles – without the climate for grape cultivation – turned to the fermenting of grain. 

In the UK, whisky/ey has a fascinating history, leading to political and economic brawling and regular issues with the taxman. Eventually, it made it made its way over to the US mainland where, using corn, Tennessee whiskey was created, a product now known as Bourbon. 

Following the last major prohibition imposed on the US public in the 1920s, moonshine (illegally home-brewed liquor) was once again in fashion. The fact that often it wasn’t very good led to the invention of the 20th century’s most stylish drink, born in speakeasies across America: the cocktail. Timeless recipes using the spirit include the Old-Fashioned, Whiskey Sour, the John Collins or the Highball. 

The best way to drink whisky/ey really comes down to a personal preference but conventionally, whisky/ey neat, with ice or a little water is enjoyed in a tumbler while ‘long’ whisky/ey drinks call for a highball. Start by taking a moment to inhale the aroma before taking a sip, savouring the flavour by allowing the spirit to roll over your tongue, before swallowing it smoothly.  

While Irish Whiskey, Scotch and Bourbon have spent centuries competing for the title of “best whisky/ey”, newer players have entered the game. Japanese whisky is now some of the most desired on the market.