‘Whisky’ derives from the Gaelic term usquebaugh which translates as ‘water of life’. Uisge means water. Beatha means life – but should it be spelt Whiskey, or Whisky?
If you’ve ever wondered what the correct way to spell the word is – you’re not alone! Much is made of the two spellings whisky and whiskey.
Is it simply that the word is spelt differently in different parts of the World (in a similar manner to the way there are often differences between spellings of words in American English and “English” English)? There is general agreement that when quoting the proper name printed on a label, the spelling on the label should not be altered, which indicates that we can rule out personal preference as a reasoning for variation of spelling. Or is it an indication in a difference of the makeup, taste, style or origin of the drink itself?
Whiskey is generally most common in Ireland and the USA, while Whisky is used throughout the rest of the World. There is a theory that a difference emerged because Scottish whisky was of very poor quality in the 1800s and Irish producers wanted to differentiate their product. it would follow that the ‘e’ was taken to the United States by the Irish immigrants and has been used ever since. In America however, this has not always been consistent. From the late eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, American writers used both spellings interchangeably, a practice that was actually only standardised following the introduction of newspaper style guides. Since the 1960s, American writers have increasingly used Whiskey as the accepted spelling for aged grain spirits made in the US and Whisky for aged grain spirits made outside the US. However, some prominent American brands, use the Whisky spelling on their labels, and the Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits, the legal regulations for spirits in the US, also use the whisky spelling throughout.
One that is consistent is that Whisky made in Scotland is always known as Scotch Whisky. The Japanese spelling is whisky as it was two men’s study of Scotch whisky that inspired the Japanese whisky movement.