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Whisky vs Whiskey: What’s the Difference?

Whisky Vs Whiskey Drinks
You don’t have to be an avid whiskey drinker to have noticed the inconsistent spelling of the grain-based drink. To add an ‘e’ or not to add an ‘e,’ that is the question. Well, the answer probably isn’t as satisfying as you’re hoping it will be.
It all started when Ireland wanted to see an increase in whisky sales. Scotland, Ireland’s neighbor, was making their own whisky, but according to the Irish, Scotch whisky was simply of a lower caliber than what the Irish could brew up. So, to distinguish their whisky from the not-as-good Scotch whisky, they decided to add an ‘e’ to the word.
Of course, some of the greatest whisky in the world comes from Scotland in today’s world, but that’s another story.
And that’s how the word ‘whiskey’ was born. Well… it’s a little more complicated than that.
Going Back & Forth
It seems like that explanation should be good enough, and neat enough, but with history, things are never very neat, are they? In other words, not everyone in Ireland was on the ‘whiskey’ side of the argument.
In 1879, John Jameson and Son, the top producers of Irish whiskey at the time, wrote the book Truths about Whisky. You can notice from the title that they did not use the ‘e’ spelling. Throughout the entire book, they spell it without the ‘e,’ confusing the matter further.
Irish whiskey companies of the time were also split on what the correct spelling of the word was. So, both ‘whiskey’ and ‘whisky’ prevailed.
In 1909, a paper titled The Royal Commission on Whisky and Other Potable Spirits was published in the British Medical Journal. In this, issues with whisky were brought up and discussed. Mainly, the purpose of this was to unify the definition of whisky. They also spelled whisky without the ‘e.’
Even the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms state that the correct, legal spelling of the word is ‘whisky.’ Yet, the Irish still choose to spell it with an ‘e.’ You have to respect their commitment.
How Do Other Countries Spell It?
So, the Scots spell it ‘whisky’ and the Irish spell it ‘whiskey.’ What about the rest of the world? The way other countries spell it depends on their relationship with either Ireland or Scotland, and/or where they originally got their whiskey from.
Canada, for the most part, spells it without an ‘e.’ This is attributed to the fact that they had close ties with Scotland. The US, on the other hand, spells it ‘whiskey,’ most likely because of the mass immigration from Ireland and the influx of Irish whiskey.
Japan, England, Wales, and Australia all follow Scotland’s lead. It’s mainly just the US and Ireland that choose to add in the ‘e.’
If countries don’t have a specific reason for spelling it one way or the other, most governments choose an official spelling for the sake of simplicity. However, that doesn’t always mean that whiskey companies are going to listen.
In the US, even though the official word is ‘whisky,’ you can find ‘whiskey’ at liquor stores, too. And, since there are large companies touting these different spellings, both ‘whisky’ and ‘whiskey’ are imported and exported around the world.
Final Thoughts
Like I said at the beginning, the answer for why there are two different spellings might not be so satisfying. Still, the truth behind it is an interesting piece of alcohol history. In short, the explanation is simply that… people spell it however they want to spell it. But, now that you know the story behind the ‘e,’ you can look at a bottle of whiskey and know a bit of the history behind it.

If a company spells it ‘whisky,’ you can guess that it’s not an Irish or American brand. Likewise, if it says ‘whiskey,’ you can make an educated guess that it comes from an Irish family or origin.
Anyways, whether you want to spell it whisky, whiskey, or if you just give up and write whisk(e)y or whisky/ey, people will know what you’re talking about. Perfection isn’t key here. And, if you can’t remember which way to spell it, relax – all you have to do is sit back and drink up.