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why is whiskey spelled differently in different countries?

In short, the United States and Ireland spell it “whiskey,” while the rest of the world spells it “whisky.” One good tool to remember is that countries with an “e” in the name (United States, Ireland) use the “e” while countries without an “e” (Scotland, Japan, India) do not.

The start of whiskey spelling debate begins in the spirit’s ancestral homes: Ireland and the British Isles. Ireland and Scotland were the first countries to seriously produce whiskey, or “uisge breatha” (water of life). Over time, it became known as whiskey. In the Irish dialect, that meant an “ey” to end the word, and in the Scottish dialect that meant only a “y.”

The oldest licensed distillery in the world, Ireland’s Old Bushmills Distillery has always spelled it with an “e.”

From there, the divide split along colonial lines. Places that were colonized by the United Kingdom drew their whisky knowledge from the whisky they were sent, which was primarily Scotch. The Johnnie Walker Striding man made his way across the globe, teaching people about whisky and the Scottish way of spelling things.

In early America, people initially used both Irish and Scottish spellings. A ration agreement for soldiers written by Alexander Hamilton and published in the Gazette of the United States in 1790 specified “half a jill of rum, brandy or whisky.” In 1791, the same publication spelled it “whiskey” in a story about Dublin. By 1791, the U.S. government officially weighed in on the spelling (in a way) with the 1791 Whiskey Tax that led to 1794’s Whiskey Rebellion.

The influx of Irish immigrants to the U.S. due to famine in the 1800s led to a larger Irish than Scottish influence in America. In 1840, Old Bourbon County defined the American whiskey style by using corn. The company spelled whiskey with an “e” and many of the new distilleries followed suit, such as George Dickel, Old Forester, and Maker’s Mark.

Scotland and England maintained sway over how the rest of the whisky-drinking world spelled the spirit. Canada kept the e-free spelling. Japan, which is relatively new to whiskey prevalence, doesn’t use the “e” because it took inspiration from Scotland.

WORDS MATTER

The subtle difference can seem insignificant, but people care. Deeply. In 2008, New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov wrote a story on Scotch and spelled it the American way. He received a rash of angry emails.

One reader from London wrote to Asimov with the comment: “I cannot pass over the unforgivable use by a serious writer on wines and spirits of ‘whiskey’ to refer to Scotch whisky.’’ He goes on to say: “I am afraid I found the constant misspelling of the product made your article quite unreadable. It is exactly the same as if you had called it ‘gin’ all the way through or were to describe Lafite as Burgundy. It is simply a basic error that a reputable writer should not make.’’

According to the Times style guide he was right. The Times guide wrote that “the general term covers bourbon, rye, Scotch and other liquors distilled from a mash of grain. For consistency, use this spelling even for liquors (typically Scotch) labeled whisky.”

The Times style guide changed later that year.

When it comes to spelling, things can get contentious. Just keep in mind when buying your whiskey: Spelling matters, but taste matters more.


here’s why bourbon drinkers should embrace single-malt scotch

There’s no denying that bourbon has become the brown spirit most American drinkers prefer over any other, but what these drinkers may not realize is that this American whiskey has a lot in common with its Scottish cousin, especially in the ways in which it is made. And that means if you’re fond of bourbon, it’s high time you gave single-malt Scotch a try.

Scottish single malt and bourbon are created in very similar ways. While they may not use the same base-grain ingredients — single-malt Scotch calls for 100 percent roasted barley while bourbon must be at least 51 percent corn — once distilled, these whiskeys both are placed in oak to be aged. They even often wind up in the same barrel! That’s because while bourbon requires that all white whiskey be placed in new charred American oak barrels in order to age and take on its brown color, Scotch does not. While a bourbon producer can only use each barrel once, Scotch producers can use the barrels as many times as they want. What do bourbon producers do? They sell their used barrels to Scotch distilleries. Meaning most of the single malts available on the market were actually aged in American bourbon barrels.

And the similarities don’t stop there. If you’re a drinker of bourbon, unless you’re consuming a single barrel variety such as Blanton’s, your bourbon was made by blending many different barrels together in order to achieve the exact flavor the blenders were looking for, and that’s exactly the same for Scotch. While many might assume a single malt comes from a single barrel of whisky, that is in fact not the case. Single malts simply come from a single distillery, but are made by blending many different barrels at that distillery. In both cases, the final liquid in the bottle is meant to be an expression of the distillery and its blenders, not an expression of what happened inside one single barrel of whiskey.

But what if the reason you avoid single-malt Scotch is because you don’t enjoy smoke, preferring the sweeter style of bourbon? Here, too, you’re in luck, because not all Scotch is smokey. In fact, some distilleries don’t use smoked peat at all in order to dry and toast their barley, and that means the whisky is lighter and a bit sweeter, much like a bourbon. If this is the flavor profile you prefer, look for Scotches that come from the Lowlands. These tend to be on the lighter and sweeter side. Our favorites are Glenkinchie and Auchentoshan.

If you love bourbon, it’s high time you gave single-malt Scotch a try. The similarities are much more common than you’d think.


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