There may have been times when you’ve wondered why your favourite spirit is spelled in two different ways on different bottles. Some spell it with an ‘e’, while others forgo the extra vowel. What does this mean, and how does an extra ‘e’ make a difference to what you’re drinking?
The spelling is an indication of the origins of the whisky. If it’s made in Ireland or the United States, it’s spelled ‘whiskey’, while the rest of the world, goes with ‘whisky’. The plural forms are different too: whisky becomes whiskies, while whiskey becomes whiskeys.
To understand it better, we got in touch with Zaheen Khatri, Trade Advocate, Grant’s India, and Vinay Joshi, Marketing Manager, Brown-Forman (Maker of Jack Daniel’s).
What does the difference in spelling mean? “One story is that in the late 1800s, Irish Distillers started spelling it differently to try to differentiate their Whiskey from Scotland’s Whisky. At the same time, Irish whiskey was hugely popular in the US, so American distillers took their approach, and the alternative spelling stuck,” Zaheen Khatri, Trade Advocate, Grant’s India tells us.
She adds, “The old way of remembering this used to be that countries with an “e” in their name used the “whiskey” spelling. Now that France, England, and Germany are all making ‘whisky’, this rule has become obsolete. Today, the distinction is entirely an academic one”.
“There are many other differences as well in the characteristics of these spirits and the taste profile is quite different as well. For example, American whiskeys have a very distinct aroma and flavour which sets them apart from others. Secondly, there are some subtle differences in the production process as well. If you talk about Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, for instance, it undergoes an extra step of charcoal mellowing where the whiskey is mellowed drop by drop through 10-feet of sugar maple charcoal,” Vinay Joshi, Marketing Manager, Brown-Forman (Maker of Jack Daniel’s) explains.
So does this have an impact on the taste? Khatri tells us, “Yes it does! A Scotch (whisky) will taste different from an Irish whiskey but that’s because each variety has a specific distillation process and even the raw ingredients vary. It’s not the spelling alone that dictates how a whisky/whiskey will taste, it depends on the manufacturing process. Blended Scotch fuses different types of single malts (Barley Whisky) with neutral grain spirits and is aged for a minimum of 3 years in oak casks, even the type of cask used dictates the aromas in the whisky. Whereas an Irish Whiskey is made from a fermented mash of cereals (corn, wheat, barley)”.
She adds, “The malted barley in Scotch whisky gives it a rounder and fuller mouthfeel with concentrated fruit aromas. Oak ageing is very essential to Scotch and imparts a delightful woody, spicy and fruity aromas. Ex-Bourbon Casks as used in our Grant’s Triple Wood, for example, to create a sweeter fruitier flavour”.
Let’s get to the colour of the spirit. Well, Scotch whisky is typically distilled twice and in copper pot stills resulting in a fuller-bodied spirit which is then matured in oak casks for a minimum of 3 years that imparts a bright gold to amber colour. The casks used have an effect on the colour of the whiskey, an ex-wine cask will give subtle burgundy hues to the liquid. Irish whiskey, on the other hand, is distilled thrice, typically uses column stills, and undergoes maturation, so the resulting liquid is lighter in viscosity and colour.