Whiskey or whisky, which is the correct spelling?

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‘Whiskey’ and ‘whisky’ are both correct spellings, but the one used depends on the country where the spirit is distilled. We explain this below, but there is a convenient (and entirely coincidental) way to remember how to spell the word when it comes from the nations that produce the most of it:

• Countries that contain an ‘e’ in their name (Ireland and United States) spell ‘whiskey’ with an ‘e’
• Countries without an ‘e’ in their name (Scotland, Canada and Japan) spell ‘whisky’ without an ‘e’

Nation by nation

In Scotland, the drink is known as ‘whisky’ without the ‘e’, while in Ireland, ‘whiskey’ is spelt with the ‘e’.

In the USA, although the legal term for their bourbon spirit is ‘whisky’, most Americans prefer to spell it ‘whiskey’. This is because many Irish immigrants operated stills and made whiskey, and this spelling has been passed down through the generations.

Maker’s Mark is a brand of bourbon made in the USA that calls itself a ‘whisky’ even though it is not from Scotland. The company’s official reason for this is that the word whisky is used to pay homage Bill Samuels Sr., its founder, who has a Scottish-Irish heritage. This is a debatable reason, as Samuels’ Irish ancestors used to call the drink ‘whiskey’ while his Scottish ones used the word ‘whisky’. Ether spelling would have been appropriate, but the Scottish term ‘whisky’ appears to have got the nod.

Japanese whisky was first made by men who were inspired by Scotch whisky, which is why the Japanese drop the ‘e’. Canadian whisky shares more of its properties with the Scottish variant than the Irish, hence mimicking its spelling.

In the UK, by law, the drink can only be called ‘whisky’ if it is made and bottled in Scotland.

What are whiskey and whisky?

Whisk(e)y is any distilled spirit made from fermented cereal grain mash. The liquor is usually aged in wooden barrels. Common grains used to make the drink include barley, corn, wheat and rye, and the type of grain used affects the flavour.

Whiskey (we’ll settle on this as the neutral spelling for the rest of the article, since British “whisky” exclusively means Scottish) can be a single variety from one distiller or mixed with other whiskeys from one or more distillers. Scotch whisky is often made with barley that is heated over a peat fire to create a distinctive smoky flavour.

Bourbon is a type of whiskey made from a minimum of 51% corn mash in a mash process where the mash is fermented with yeast. Rye whiskey, meanwhile, uses a rye and malt mash.

What is the best whiskey?

Whiskey lovers argue over which is the best drink. There are many factors that influence how well the drink tastes. The taste is affected by the type of grain used, the water source, how long the mash was heated and whether the grains were smoked or not.

Some drinkers say that the type of glass used affects the taste whiskey. For many, the best way to drink whiskey is neat in a crystal cut glass, with some debate over whether ice or water should be added. Some drinkers prefer it mixed with ginger ale or soda, although purists will argue it needs no mixers.

However you spell whisky (or whiskey), or whether you use a mixer or not, the most important this is that you enjoy the experience of drinking your favourite brand. If you know a whisky/whiskey lover, an ideal present for them is an engraved whisky/whiskey glass that contains a heartfelt message.

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