You’ll often see a bottle of whisky either on your table, in the drinks cabinet, or on the back bar. But have you ever really paid much attention to the spelling? It surprised me to learn, speaking to people, that despite the word being front and centre on every bottle out there, they often raise their eyebrows when it’s pointed out that some people spell it WHISKY and others WHISKEY.
I think this is less common here in Scotland, where we are extremely proud of our national drink and are passionately headstrong about how we spell it. Or maybe it’s just because we see a bottle more often than most, who knows!
You see we are almost exclusively unique in why we spell it this way. The real reason is that it’s the law. Manufacturers of Scotch whisky must use the spelling with no “e” if they are to legally call their product Scotch Whisky. There are many other criteria which we will come to in later blogs, but that’s for another day. There are a few more countries’ producers round the world spelling whisky, including England, Wales, Japan, Australia and in Scandinavia. But only Scotch and Canadian whiskies are required to spell it this way by law.
Then there is whiskey. American and Irish produces use the whiskey spelling along with most other whisk(e)y producing countries around the world. It’s widely thought that Irish whiskey producers originally introduced their spelling with an e in order to try and differentiate their spirit from their Scottish counterparts, as they mistakenly thought it was better!. This was then brought to America with the huge Irish immigrant movement of the late 19th century, whereas, Canada, due mainly to its strong connection to Scottish immigration held onto the Scottish version.
Saying that, throughout the 20th century it’s been a bit of a mix and without droning on about the details, it’s suffice to say that the Irish whisky Paddy only changed to align with the rest of the Ireland in 1960.
Add to the confusion, to this day Maker’s Mark American Bourbon and George Dickel Tennessee Sour Mash still use whisky like the scots.
So in short it’s not black and white but hopefully this gives you some insights into something as simple as the letter “e” that causes so much debate and conversation in the world of whisky.