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A Guide to the World’s Whisk(e)y Making Traditions

Whiskey basics explained - Gear Patrol

Whisk(e)y at the most basic level is distilled alcohol produced from fermenting a mash of grain — or corn in some cases. Making it initially shares a lot similarities with beer, minus the addition of hops. It starts by steeping a mixture of grains in hot water. That process triggers the release of the natural sugars which are then converted by yeast into alcohol. The resulting beer-like substance, called “wort” in whisk(e)y speak, is then distilled and put into wooden barrels to age. The type of grains used in the recipe, the distillation method and the barrels the spirit is stored in are what create the main differences between Scotch, bourbon, Irish, Canadian whisky and other types beyond their country of origin.

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The main difference between whisky and whiskey is what?

Definitions from the article:

SCOTCH WHISKY - Malted Barley + Other grains, distilled at 190 proof, aged in Scotland, in oak for >= 3 yrs, bottled at 80 proof. 


IRISH WHISKEY - Any grain, aged in Ireland, 189.6 proof

AMERICAN WHISKEY - Any grain, distilled at 160 proof, stored in new oak, bottled at 80 proof

Difference it seems is simply the 'E' and subject to a little "Solecism". versus Whisky By Eric Asimov December 4, 2008 1:56 pmDecember 4, 2008 1:56 pm

Whiskey versus WhiskyFrom the New York Times stylebook.

I’m looking out there for the one person who apparently was not offended by the spelling of “whiskey’’ in my column on Speyside single malts. If you are that person, allow me to explain.

Whiskey is a word with an alternative spelling, whisky. Or maybe it’s the other way around. seems to prefer whiskey. The New York Times stylebook definitively prefers whiskey:

whiskey(s). 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.

But clearly, definitively, and somewhat aggressively, people from Scotland and many fans of Scotch have informed me of their preference for whisky over whiskey, judging by the flood of comments and emails I received yesterday. Here is a brief sample:

Graham Kent of London wrote: “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.’’

Well, allow me to say in my defense, I never claimed to be reputable!

Meanwhile, Margaret Tong wrote: “Last year I sent you an email to inform you that Scotch whisky has no ‘e.’ Irish whiskey has the ‘e.’ Yet, this year you continue your indifference. What a great disappointment that you think so little of the world’s greatest drink, ‘The glorified yellow water!’

“Glorified yellow water?” I’ve never heard that before. Margaret Tong, allow me to introduce you to Frank Zappa.

I shall spare you the other email comments I’ve received, except this one, from a gentleman in Scotland: “Sadly the word ‘whiskey’ conjures up a very different brew here in Scotland. Scotch Whisky it has ever been, and ‘Scotch Whiskey’ an embarrassing solecism unworthy of The New York Times.’’

By solecism, he means, according to my dictionary, a nonstandard usage or grammatical construction and a violation of etiquette.

Let me say that it is not now nor has it ever been (rarely been, at least) my intention to offend. And while I may appear to be enjoying this – well, why not? – I have not meant to behave solecistically.

Look, I could not work at a place like The New York Times if I didn’t love language and take it seriously. I know that the vast majority of Scots and partisans of Scotch prefer the e-less whisky. Knowing how they would react I tried to preempt it in my column with a little disclaimer. Obviously, it was not enough to stem the tide.

I decided to check in with my favorite word authority, Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary, and this is what he said:

“As an aficionado of whisky and whiskey, I do have deep feelings on the usage, which is pretty much that the Times style should be changed. This isn’t a case where a small group of fanatics are insisting on some highly personal interpretation of an issue that is not adhered to by anyone outside their cult. It’s almost universally the case that the word is spelled ‘whisky’ in Scotland and Canada, and ‘whiskey’ elsewhere, and that, as you have seen, people really do care about this as an important distinction. I’d also observe that the O.E.D. points this out in its entry. So I would encourage you to adopt this distinction in the style book. I have no problem with using ‘whiskey’ as a the main generic form, if there’s no indication of location.’’

Thanks, Jesse! I will discuss this usage issue with my editors and the editors whose job it is to make stylistic decisions for The New York Times. Your opinions will be heard.

By the way, if you care about language and enjoy thinking about it you might want to check out “The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage.’’ It’s an amazing work and demonstrates how much conscientious thought goes into making The Times consistent and well written. Not surprisingly, but encouragingly, certain entries in this latest edition of the style book are already out of date.

Thanks Gammy. Scotch and Canadian are whisky, Irish and American are whiskey?

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