August 14, 2014

What’s the Difference between Whiskey & Whisky?

What's the Difference between Whiskey & Whisky?No, the bar did not make a typo when spelling “Whisky” on their menu. There are two different ways to spell this richly flavored, distilled spirit- whiskey and whisky. Why are there different spellings for the same drink? If you’re new to the scotch-whiskey industry, these are some differences you should consider.

Whiskey vs. Whisky

The tradition of calling the drink whisky started with the Scottish producers, and Canadian and Japanese producers followed suit. While the Irish typically spell it whiskey, and so do US producers. But there are a couple major differences between the two seemingly same drinks. Generally, Scottish whisky is distilled twice, while Irish whiskey is usually distilled three times. Distilling the drink three times tends to give the whiskey a smoother and purer taste. Because the Irish distillers typically made a higher quality spirit, they wanted to distinguish their product from their Scottish counterparts, so they added the “e”.

The size and shape of the stills during the distillation process influence the final flavor of the spirit. In the US and Ireland, short, large stills are used which produce a drink with a softer and rounder taste. However, in Scottish distilleries they usually use many different kinds of stills which yields a greater variety of flavors.

The Process

The malting stage is usually also different depending on where the whiskey is being made. The malted barley during the Scottish whisky process is dried over peat fires. According to peatsociety.org, peat is a heterogeneous mixture of more or less decomposed plant (humus) material that has accumulated in a water-saturated environment and in the absence of oxygen. The smoke from the peat seeps into the barley, which is what gives Scottish whisky its smoky flavor. In the malting process of Irish and American whiskey, the malted barley is dried in closed ovens using wood and other fuels. But the smoke during this process does not touch the malted barley so the taste is purer. Thus making the whiskey lighter and less smoky in flavor than Scottish whisky.

Regardless of how you spell this popular alcoholic beverage, whiskey is a distilled spirit made from malted barley or other grain mash. Due to the many grains that can be used during the malting process, there are technically six types of whiskey. The varied grains and flavors lead to spirits named corn, malt, bourbon, rye, rye malt, and wheat.

So the next time you take a second glance at the word “whiskey” or “whisky” on the drink menu- you can impress your social circle with your newfound knowledge of the origins of whiskey.

Have you ever wondered the difference between whiskey and whisky?

In the comments below, tell us if you ever debated the difference with someone? Were you correct in your stance?

Danielle Cherrick

Danielle loves a good glass of wine. She enjoys exploring various kinds of spirits and learning more about what she's drinking so she can enhance her palate and tasting skills.

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