To “e” or not to “e?”  

By Corey Williams
October 07, 2019

If you’ve ever wondered what exactly is the difference between “whiskey” and “whisky,” you’ve come to the right place. 

What Is Whisk(e)y? 

There are many types of whiskey out there, but three things are true of all of them: All whiskey is distilled and alcoholic, made from fermented grains (including barley, corn, rye, and wheat), and aged in barrels. 

A true whiskey has no added flavors—the robust flavor of a traditional whiskey is supposed to come from the barrel it is aged in.

The word “whiskey” comes from the Gaelic “uisge beatha” which means “water of life.” Alcohol distillation methods, which had previously been used to make wine, made their way to Scotland and Ireland sometime between 1100 and 1300 via monks. 

Since the area wasn’t conducive to winemaking, barley beer was distilled into liquor which became whisky.

How Is It Spelled? 

Here’s where things get tricky: Both “whiskey” and “whisky” are correct spellings. 

When it’s made in Ireland or the U.S., it’s “whiskey.” When it’s made anywhere else, it’s “whisky.” 

(Editor’s note: MyRecipes is based in the U.S., so we’re going to default to “whiskey” unless we’re specifically referring to Scotch whisky).

Differences in Scottish and Irish translations accounts for the dual spellings. The Irish, who have always added an “e” between the k and the y, brought the beverage—plus the extra letter—to the U.S. in the 1700s. 

The Scottish, who spell the word sans “e,” took their spelling to Canada, India, and Japan (the three other major whiskey-producing countries). 

Scottish Whisky vs. Irish Whiskey

Even though they’re neighboring countries and share a rich history of whiskey-making, Irish and Scottish whiskies are different in a couple ways:

Distillation Process

Scottish whisky, or Scotch, is typically distilled twice. Irish whiskey, meanwhile, is typically distilled three times. 

The triple distillation is responsible for Irish whiskey’s signature smoothness and lightness.

Type of Barley

Irish whiskey is usually made from unmalted barley and other grains, while Scotch is usually made from malted barley and other grains. 

During the malting process, the grain is watered to stimulate germination and then it is dried to halt the germination.

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