Whisky vs. Whiskey: What’s the Difference?

Have you ever noticed that there are two different spellings of whisky (whiskey)? That’s right, and not knowing when to use each spelling could get you in some trouble, depending on the bar.

So, what’s the difference? Is it the distillation process? Is it the alcohol content? Are they just two different spellings of the same word?

What is the Difference Between Whisky and Whiskey?

In this post, I will answer all of these questions, and I’ll go through the common whisky/whiskey producing countries and tell you who uses what.

Plus, at the end, I’ll show you a trick to remember the difference between whisky vs. whiskey.

When to Use Whisky

whisky versus whiskey grammar differenceWhat does whisky mean? Whisky, of course, is a type of spirit distilled from a mash of fermented grains. But why isn’t there an “e” in it?

Whisky, without the e, is the normal spelling of the word in Great Britain, Canada, and Japan.

  • And by linking Highland towns such as Dufftown, on the Spey, to markets in the south, it turned whisky distilling into a major industry. –The Guardian

If the liquor originates in these three areas, it should be referred to as whisky. Scotch whiskey is considered a serious gaffe in the eyes of a Scot, so it’s important to make this distinction.

In fact, this distinction is so important, even The New York Times changed its approach to the spelling of whisky/whiskey.

Up until a few years ago, NYT used whiskey exclusively. Whether the liquor came from Kentucky or Islay, everything in the Times was whiskey.

This did not sit well with some of the paper’s Scottish whiskey drinkers, who said that liquors produced in Scotland are properly spelled whisky. As a result, the paper took a new approach: spell each spirit according to the favored way of its country of origin.

Thus, Scottish, Canadian, and Japanese spirits are spelled whisky, the plural of which is whiskies.

When to Use Whiskey

whiskey versus whisky spelling and meaningWhat does whiskey mean? Again, whiskey is type of spirit distilled from a mash of fermented grains. But why is there an “e” in it?

Whiskey, with an e, is the normal spelling of the word in the United States and Ireland.

  • Exports of bourbon and Tennessee whiskey topped $1 billion in 2014 for the second straight year, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. –The Washington Post

If the liquor originates in the United States or Ireland, it should be referred to as whiskey, the plural of which is whiskeys.

Why the Difference in Spelling: Whisky or Whiskey?

All of this makes you wonder, “Why is there a difference in spelling in the first place?”

The difference comes from the translations of the word from the Scottish and Irish Gaelic forms. The “e” was subsequently brought to the United States by Irish immigrants in the 1700s and has since become the normalized spelling.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Here’s a nice, easy trick to keep track of whiskey vs. whisky.

The countries with “E’s” in their names spell it as whiskey. For example, the United States and Ireland.

The countries without “E’s” in their names spell it as whisky. For example, Scotland, Canada, and Japan. None has an “E.”

Summary

Is it whiskey or whisky? Well, that depends on the country of origin.

If the liquor originated in the United States or Ireland, use whiskey.

If the liquor originated in Scotland, Canada, or Japan, use whisky.