What is whisky? Most adults have tried their fair share of alcohol to see what type of liquor it is that they enjoy consuming. Some people reach for beer; others wine. For those who drink whisky, it’s more than just simply a drink to have at night when out at a nice restaurant. For those who are whisky connoisseurs, it’s an experience that can be just as fulfilling as any other relaxing activity. There’s a lot to say about the whisky origin, which we will be exploring in this article.
As you’re reading the first paragraph, you may feel like something looks a little off to you. Most people are not used to seeing this alcoholic beverage spelled as “whisky”. They’re used to it being spelled as “whiskey”. Even as my fingers work to construct this article for you, I am fighting the urge to spell it as “whiskey”. So, where did whiskey come from? Why is it sometimes spelled as whisky? Let’s explore.
What Is the Origin of Whisky?
Whisky has been distilled for hundreds of years in Scotland. Although it has never been proven, it is thought that Christian missionary monks brought the art of distilling to Scotland. Though, it could also be true that the Highland farmers figured this out themselves.
Mr. J Marshall Robb noted in his book ‘Scotch Whisky’:
‘The oldest reference to whisky occurs in the Scottish Exchequer Rolls for 1494, where there is an entry of ‘eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae’.
There is a reference to private distilling in the parish of Gamrie in Banhhshire in 1614. There’s also mention of a distillery in the Acts of the Scottish Parliament in 1960. There, the famous Ferintosh distillery, which was owned by Duncan Forbes of Culloden; was mentioned.
Whiskey Vs. Whisky
There are many whisky brands and for the average drinker, as long as they can enjoy a flavorful drink, they don’t really mind how it’s spelled. It is a very interesting backstory, though; which is why we wanted to dive deeper into the whisky origin. This is a beverage that is about much more than drinking – it’s a rich history that perhaps not everyone thinks about when they’re at the liquor store.
Why is there a difference in spelling? Where did the whiskey vs whisky battle stem from? The simple answer to what is the difference between whiskey and whisky is just the way it’s spelled. The way it’s spelled will let you know where the brand that you’re drinking originated from.
Where Does the Word Come From?
The word whisky comes from the original Scots and Gaelic derivations of the word ‘Uisce beatha’. This is translated into ‘Water of Life’. This is an interesting translation because there was one point in American history, during the wild west days; that whiskey was safer to drink than water. Why do you think cowboys drank so much in all of your favorite old Western films?
Prior to the 18th century when the Irish immigrated to America, whisky was spelled as such. It was after coming to America that the spelling changed to include an ‘e’ in it. The uses of both spellings are more than just that, though. While the spelling can be used interchangeably, the differences are boiled down to two categories.
When you are drinking ‘Scotch’, as it is shortened to; you’re drinking whisky. No ‘e’. What makes whisky Scotch? In order for whisky to be counted as Scotch, it needs to have been matured in oak for at least three years. It must be made of 100% barley. And as you probably would have guessed it, production and maturation must have taken place in Scotland.
In order for whiskey to be spelled with an ‘e’, as we’re so used to it being spelled with, it must be Irish. Irish whiskey, like Scotch whisky; must be matured for at least three years before consumption. Irish whiskey isn’t typically smokey as it does not use, if any at all; peat. Irish whiskey can contain a distillate of malt, a barley distillate and a portion of grain spirit. It also distilled three times.
What Other Types of Whisky Are There?
On top of Scotch and Irish whisky, there are other types of this spirit around the world. This has helped fuel why this alcoholic beverage is so popular – because it’s a universal drink. And it shows up in every continent. Here are some of the other types of whisky that you can find.
You’ve probably heard of Bourbon before and if you haven’t, it does fall within the whiskey category. Yes, spelled with an ‘e’. In the whiskey vs whisky battle, whiskey wins here. Bourbon is an American whiskey that is made with 51% corn with rye and malted barley. Jim Beam and Wild Turkey whiskey are good examples of Bourbon.
Rye Whiskey and Bourbon are made the same way. The difference is that Rye Whiskey is made up of 51% rye. Unlike bourbon, Rye Whiskey tends to be spicier.
Made the same way as Bourbon, as well; what puts the Tennessee in Tennessee Whiskey is the mellowing of charcoal before maturation.
When it comes to Japanese whisky, you do not use the ‘e’. This type of whisky originated in 1920s – inspired by Scotch whisky. In fact, Scottish academic institutions trained people in Japan. Therefore, the process is very similar to Scotch whisky. The difference is with Japanese whisky is that there are no legal maturation period.
It is very common for blended Japanese whiskies to use some amount of Scotch malt whisky in the procession. Typically, Japanese whisky is aged over five years.
What Are the Most Popular Brands of Whisky?
When you’re looking for a night of drinking or need a glass of whisky to sip on, everyone has their preferred brand. Because this distilled spirit is so popular, there are plenty of different companies making their own version of the drink. Plenty that you have most likely heard of. In this section, we will be going over what those brands are.
Johnnie Walker is probably one of the most recognizable whiskey brands and certainly the most famous. There are different levels of Johnnie Walker, from their “entry-level” Red Label brand, to the prestigious Blue Label. This isn’t all Johnnie Walker can provide. The brand has its Johnnie Double Black, Green, Black, Gold, and Platinum labels. They range in price and flavor, so no matter what budget you’re on, you can enjoy some Johnnie Walker.
Glenfiddich has a wide range of ages available, which are all single malt. This means that only one type of malted grain is used in this whiskey’s production. They also sell a fifty-year-old piece that you can get for the low, low price of…$55,000. Needless to say, it’s for those who truly love whisky.
Lagavulin is probably known for the fact that it was the preferred Scotch of fictional character Ron Swanson from the hit comedy show Parks and Recreation. The character himself described the distiller’s edition the ‘Nector of the Gods’. The most popular single-malt in this brand is the sixteen-year-old. It’s typically peat and smoky.
This is an entry-level white label that won Gold at the San Francisco Spirit Awards. It’s an alternative to those who are not looking to pay a lot of money for their whiskey, but still want to enjoy a fine taste when they open up a bottle.
Even if you are not a whiskey fan, you know what Jim Beam is. It’s one of the most recognizable whiskey/alcohol brands that anyone can pick off a shelf. It’s a bog-standard white label bourbon that also comes in a wide variety of flavors. Honey, Maple, Cinnamon – you name it. Jim Beam is fairly affordable, but you can get the Distiller’s Masterpiece for $250.
Talk about well-known drinks. For many, Jack Daniels was probably the first sip of alcohol they ever had. Just me, then? It’s the go-to for bikers, civilians, and everyone else in between. It’s made with Tennessee whiskey and it’s been told that Frank Sinatra himself was a fan. Jack Daniels is relatively inexpensive, but like Jim Beam, it has its premium versions which cost a pretty penny.
Maker’s Mark is certainly popular among “hipsters”, but it’s made from the same company that owns Jim Beam and Suntory Whiskey in Japan. Having been around for fifty years, it is also popular in Australia for its small-batch flavor. Every bottle is hand-dipped in its iconic red wax which makes it an eye-catcher in any bar. Maker’s Mark is considered a Kentucky bourbon.
We mentioned Wild Turkey earlier. According to some, it’s a “classier” version of Jim Beam. It’s still a go-to for old-fashioned folks in the American South. The taste is straight-forward and simple. The way alcohol should be when you’re looking to just have a class of no-nonsense.
Irish comrades, we know this one is for you. It’s probably the best selling and well-known Irish whiskey. The standard Jameson is twelve-years-old, but there is a premium version that has been aged for eighteen-years. Jameson is so popular that bars can go through twenty bottles a day. Imagine how many they got through during St. Patrick’s Day?
No, not the Netflix movie starring Robert DeNiro Joe Pesci. We’re talking about alcohol here. The Irishman is at the top of Irish Whiskey. The average bottle costs about $75.00 and there’s a limit to 5,000 per batch. The Irishman is a single malt whiskey that is aged in Bourbon and Sherry Casks. It’s an experience that many enjoy.
We, of course; have to offer some Japanese options right now. Suntory Kakubin is a Japanese Whiskey that is known for being featured in the hit movie Lost in Translation. Suntory Kakubin is the most well-known Japanese whisky brands. It’s full-bodied and highly enjoyable, so next time you’re in Japan or want to feel like you’ve traveled to Japan, pick up a Suntory Kakubin.
Yamakazi is made by Suntory in their Yamakazi distillery. The Yamakazi offers three whiskeys. An entry-level, a twelve-year, and an eighteen-year-old single malt. The Yamakazi offer a rich color with a sweet and softer flavor than the Suntory Kakubin. Like the other Japanese whisky, the Yamakazi is aged in Bourbon and Sherry Casks. It’s a mild drink that still is able to pack a wild punch.
Canadian Club is a whiskey that may be often used with mixers, but it’s incredibly popular. In fact, it’s the benchmark for Canadan Whiskey. This brand has been around since 1858 and has been the go-to brand for the character James Bond and Queen Victoria. Who doesn’t like to feel like Agent 007 when they’re ordering up a drink? Next time you’re at a bar, give Canadian Club a try.
I bet you didn’t think Fireball was a whiskey! Even though it says it is on the bottle, Fireball feels like it’s in a league of its own. Blended and flavored with cinnamon, it is a sweet drink that even those who dislike whiskey will order. It’s strong, but smooth and is really great on a cold night. Fireball is also Canadian! For its packaging and flavor, it’s one of the most well-known and talked about drinks on the planet.
If you are looking to begin your whiskey journey, Smith’s is a good starting point. It’s simple and described as a good stepping off point for those wanting to get into the world of whiskey. Smith’s is distilled in Australia’s Barossa Valley and is typically aged in between eight to fourteen years. It’s a young whiskey that is simple and not bogged down by complicated flavors.
Oban originates in a small distillery in the Scottish Highlands. This whisky brand is coastal and sweet. The Distillers Edition Single Malt is finished in Fino sherry casks – this perfectly elevates the sweetness and is a must-try. The single malts ages for about fourteen years. It’s fresh tasting and a perfect option for when you are wanting to enjoy the beauty that a whisky has to offer.
Conclusion: Is Whisky More Than Just Whisky?
Whether you spell it whiskey or whisky, this spirit has a rich and defined history that stretches across every country. No matter where you are in the world, you can experience that culture by the whisky that they have to offer. Whether it’s Irish, Scottish, Canadian, or Japanese, the spirit of the whisky origin is there for everyone to enjoy. You can enjoy young and old brands, with a wide array of price tags. Enjoy a simple and flavored whisky, or even a light drink to mix with. It doesn’t matter how you like to enjoy this alcoholic beverage, as long as you do it safely. It’s our hope that you take a moment to think about the history of what you’re about to drink before you drink it now that you’ve read this article. And the next time someone asks you what is the difference between whiskey and whisky, you’ll be able to educate them.
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