Whiskey or Whisky? What’s the Difference? | Buy My Liquor

29th Jan 2021

Ice cubes are dropped with a splash into three large glasses of whiskey.

If you’ve recently been getting into the whiskey world, you may have noticed that it’s spelled two ways: “Whiskey” with an E, and “whisky” without an E. So which is it? Whiskey or whisky? Are these two separate liquors? What’s the story?

Let’s find out, today in the Buy My Liquor Blog!

Fundamentally the Same Drink

Whether you spell it “whiskey” or “whisky,” both words refer to fundamentally the same drink: liquor distilled from fermented cereal grains and aged in wood barrels. (Technically, a “barrel” refers to a specific size of container, but we won’t get that nitpicky here.)

Whiskey is produced all over the world, from the famous Scotch whisky that is so en vogue right now (see our Scotch selection), to the esoteric but award-winning Japanese whisky on the other side of the planet (discover our Japanese Whisky), to all-American bourbon whiskey (explore our Bourbon), and plenty more besides.

  • Drink Up: You can explore all of our whiskeys in our Whiskey department!

But There Is a Difference

However, these two terms are not completely interchangeable. The major difference that determines whether it’s spelled “whiskey” or “whisky” is the country of origin, and the historical traditions and migrations that led to that spelling being adopted in the first place.

History of the Word

The word “whiskey” (in either spelling) comes from the Gaelic word uisge or uisce, pronounced “ISH-kuh.” It literally means “water,” but was used in the phrase “uisge breatha,” meaning “water of life,” which is a Gaelic translation of an ancient phrase originally from Latin, aqua vitae, referring to distilled spirits.

If you sound it out, “uisge” does sound similar to “whiskey.”

“Whiskey or Whisky?” Really Means “Irish or British?”

In Scottish Gaelic, the evolution of the spelling of “uisge” eventually led to the spelling “whisky,” with no E. But in Irish Gaelic, the spelling evolved to “whiskey,” with an E.

The United States of America, benefitting from a massive Irish migration in its early generations, eventually settled on the Irish spelling.

In contrast, Canada, Japan, Australia, and India adopted the Scottish spelling by way of the colonial influence of the vast British Empire.

Specific Brands May Buck the Trend

This rule of the spelling of “whiskey” or “whisky” being determined by Irish or British influence doesn’t usually carry the weight of law, and some specific manufacturers, restaurants, and bars may choose a different spelling from the norm in their country.

In particular, the “whisky” spelling, with no E, is seen in some American subcultures as being more prestigious and refined, so you will sometimes find “whisky” spelled with no E by certain businesses.

Less often, companies go in the other direction, adding an E to their “whiskey” even though that isn’t traditional in their country. This is more common in Australia and Canada than in Scotland or Japan, where the spelling is quite rigid.

What About the Plural?

The last point to hit is the plural spelling of “whiskey” or “whisky”:

  • The plural of “whiskey” is whiskeys.
  • The plural of “whisky” is whiskies.

Don’t Worry If You Get It “Wrong”

Because of variations in specific businesses, sometimes you may find yourself spelling this word differently from how others do. Don’t worry about it! Nobody worth listening to is going to give you a lot of grief if you use the “wrong” spelling.

Whiskey or whisky, it’s all good!

Find your favorite whiskey (or whisky!), or try something completely new to expand your palate, right here online at Buy My Liquor:

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