It was a Saturday afternoon. We were entertaining a group on one of our Drinks of Walkerville walking tours and made our stop at the Canadian Club Brand Centre for some history and tastings when we dropped this simple tweet:
— WindsorEats (@WindsorEats) December 6, 2014
We were quickly pointed out by a follower on Twitter that we were wrong:
@WindsorEats Hey WindsorEats, It's whisky!
— Edward Zold (@edwardzold) December 7, 2014
This made us do some research and look into a question I am sure many of you have had: what’s the difference between “whisky” and “whiskey”? Is one right and one wrong? Well, funny enough, yes and no. We’re going to explain how a little bit of geography and even some clever branding came into play to determine today’s proper spelling.
We’re going to skip over details about all the different types of the drink (Scotch, Irish, Tennessee, Bourbon, Rye, etc.), and try to keep the explanation as simple as possible.
Technically, both spellings are correct. They just have to be used in the proper manner, or, more specifically, the proper location. The reason for this allegedly goes all the way back to the 1870’s. Around that time, Scottish whisky wasn’t the top notch drink it is today. Allegedly, it was very poor quality, however, that didn’t stop it from being exported to the United States.
That’s where branding comes into play.
The Irish were making the best whiskey of the day (notice the spelling I used) and were exporting a fair amount of bottles to the United States as well. Knowing how bad the quality of whisky made in Scotland was, the Irish wanted to completely separate themselves from their competitors. To do this, they did the simplest thing they could: they added an “e” to the spelling of any “whisky” made in Ireland. Apparently, because Irish whiskey was of the highest quality at that time, the spelling was quickly adopted in America, which would explain why Ireland and the United States are the only countries to continue spelling it “whiskey”. Canada, Japan, Scotland and every other country in the world spells it “whisky”.
There is a funny twist to the story, though. While many Americans and American companies use the “whiskey” spelling, legal regulations for the spirit in the United States require it be to identified as “whisky”.
How’s that for a confusing tidbit of useless knowledge? We think we deserve a drink after that…