December 23, 2021

Whiskey v. Whisky: What’s the Difference?

There is a lot of terminology in the whiskey world – single pot, blended, the angel’s share – but a constant point of confusion remains: is it whiskey or whisky?

To E or Not to E?

As it turns out, there is a notable difference between whiskey and whisky. The Encyclopedia Britannica describes the difference as being “based on factors such as the type of cereal grain used in the distilling process as well as how and where it was produced.”

Whiskey is spelt with an ‘E’ in Ireland and America. It is spelt without the ‘E’ in places such as Scotland and Canada. The original Gaelic Irish name for whiskey is uisge beatha, which some have theorised may have led to the difference in spelling – but there are a few other explanations for this difference.

Historically, even in Ireland, whiskey was spelt without the ‘E’. The change came about when the Spirits Act was introduced in 1860, which allowed distillers to create blends of whisky from single malts and grain whiskey. This enabled Scotch distillers to create a blend similar to Irish whiskey that was cheaper to produce. Combined with genius marketing, this innovation led to Scotch eating into Irish whiskey’s global market. 

To combat this, the largest Irish distilling companies of the 19th century, such as John Jameson and John Power, added the ‘E’ to differentiate their product from Scottish whisky. However, this was not a universal change in Ireland, and smaller distillers continued to market their whisky without the ‘E’.

Across the pond in America, prohibition limited whiskey exports, but Irish whiskey was incredibly popular. It was considered to be higher quality than Scotch and sold for around 25% more. As a result, many American distillers changed the name of their products to align them with Irish whiskey. 

Another theory considers that the American name change comes from the Irish immigrants who flooded the country in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Irish population may have influenced the name change as they integrated into the United States.

More Than a Name

There are key differences between whiskey and whisky that are not just in the name. In the case of Scotch whisky, these official regulations must be followed:

  • Single malt whisky must be made from malted barley
  • It must be matured in oak barrels at a capacity of 700 litres or less for at least three years
  • It has to be produced in Scotland to be labelled as Scotch

In the case of whiskey, regulations that must be followed include:

  • Being matured for a minimum of three years
  • Having at least 40% volume content of alcohol
  • Being fermented with yeast
  • Being distilled three times 

However, to add to the confusion, Irish whiskey can also be labelled as whisky. This is relatively rare; however, whether whiskey is spelt with or without the ‘E’ is usually a good indication of where it has been distilled. 

Where Irish whiskey is usually distilled three times, Scotch and other whiskies are mainly distilled only twice. Scotch also has a smokier taste that comes from the peat that is sometimes used during the malting process. In contrast, Irish whiskey is known to be smoother. 

Conclusion

In summary, whiskey usually refers to Irish whiskey, whereas whisky is for Scotch. It’s a straightforward way to check which type of whiskey that you’re drinking!

Although Scotch whisky has enjoyed massive popularity for many years, the Irish whiskey market is booming once more, with sales projected to double in the next decade. Now is the time to invest in Irish whiskey – contact our specialist team today to find out more.