MS: Spirits enthusiasts may have noticed that their favorite brands of whiskey might be spelled in one of two ways, either “whiskey” or “whisky”. Why do some brands drop the 'e' (ie. "whisky")? Is the spelling an important distinction between two different things, a stylistic choice, or did someone just forget to spellcheck?
MM: You’ll hear people say that there is a rule-of-thumb when spelling Whisk(e)y; that rule being: if the country of origin has an ‘e’ in the name, then you spell whisk(e)y with an ‘e’ and if the country of origin it doesn’t have an ‘e’ then you leave out the ‘e’.
This rule of thumb Is a neat coincidence, and that’s all. The problem is that this rule doesn’t address WHY the two spellings were adopted in the first place.
If you trace whiskey back to its origins, you end up in the Scotland/Ireland region. Scotland was first out the gates when it came to marketing and global distribution of its whisky. Once Ireland caught up, it needed, and wanted to make its Whiskey stand out! Ireland needed a point of difference; after all, its Whiskey was made differently, it tasted differently, why not spell it differently, so Ireland added the ‘e’.
As (what would become) the United States became populated, we had more Irish settlers than Scottish settlers, the Irish settlers brought their distilling style, and their way of spelling whiskey with them. This is the reason that MOST whiskey from the US and Ireland have the ‘e’... not because we have an ‘e’ in our country's name.
Nowadays, there are NO rules, brands may add or drop the ‘e’ based on what style their Whiskey pays homage to, or because they simply like the aesthetics of one style of spelling over the other.
MS: Do the countries that spell whiskey or whisky the same way share any similarity in style? For example, would you expect a Canadian whisky to taste similar to a Scotch whisky? Bourbon whiskey and Irish whiskey?
MM: Again, originally yes, adding the ‘e’ was an intentional point of difference between Irish Whiskey and Scottish Whisky, and they taste completely different: Scotch is typically double distilled and their grain is dried in a kiln over a peat fire, adding a distinctive smoky note to scotch. Irish Whiskey is triple distilled, making it lighter and more delicate. Irish Whiskey is also made without the peat drying process and typically doesn't carry a Smokey note.
How you spell whisk(e)y doesn’t matter or signify a certain style. There are smoky Irish whiskies (Connemara) and light un-peated Scottish Whiskies (Auchentoshan). There are bourbons that have dropped the ‘e’ like Makers Mark and George Dickel.
MS: If you had to pick a side, which spelling do you prefer?
MM: I love Scotch, but I also like spelling whiskey WITH an e, it simply makes sense phonetically, and rolls of the tongue easier.
Find a great variety of Whiskeys and Whiskys using our Spirits Finder and the links below:
THE GLENLIVET 12 YR750ML 80 Proof Scotch
GLENFIDDICH 12 YR SCOTCH750ML 80 Proof Scotch
TULLAMORE DEW750ML 80 Proof Irish Whiskey
TOKI SUNTORY JAPANESE WHISKY750ML 86 Proof Japanese Whiskey
CROWN ROYAL1.75L 80 Proof Canadian Whiskey
MAKERS MARK1.75L 90 Proof Bourbon
JIM BEAM750ML 80 Proof Bourbon
JAMESON IRISH WHISKEY1.75L 80 Proof Irish Whiskey