Frequently these spellings are treated as interchangeable words. If you are uninformed or just never cared you might not know even that there is a difference between them. You dopey bastard. Don’t be ashamed though. They were even spelled the same way in the New York Times until 2008. Everything was just “whiskey.” People went crazy though and on advice of the editor of the Oxford English dictionary they started spelling them differently. This is important stuff. People take their drinking seriously.
The difference is based on location. Basically. It’s a little more complicated than that as the two drinks aren’t exactly the same. It’s not like drinking a Yoo-hoo in France and a Yoo-hoo in Brazil. Whisky and whiskey can be made differently and even include different ingredients.
Whisky is made in Scotland, Canada and Japan. Except for the Canadian whisky, which we’ll get to later, it’s also a type. It’s Scotch. Although you can’t call it that in Japan because Scotch can only be made in Scotland. Confused? Deep breath. It’s going to be ok. Let’s break it down.
Scotland is the original place where whisky comes from. Perhaps as early as the 1400’s.
The most important thing to remember with Scottish whisky is it’s made in Scotland. Cake. It’s also called Scotch. If a whiskey is from anywhere other than Scotland it can’t be called Scotch. Scotch whisky is different from whiskey in that it’s grain, usually barley, is usually smoked in peat smoke. That’s a lot of usuallys for one sentence huh? But it’s a gray area. Or grey area, again depending on where you are from. There are several different types of Scotch but mostly they are blended. Blending is the combining of multiple whiskeys to make a unique one. 90% of Scotch is blended whisky. They put a number on the label identifying the age of the youngest whiskey used.
The Japanese make their own whisky as well. Unlike the Canadians they actually base their whisky off of Scotch. So their name makes sense. Also like Scotch they have single malt and blended varieties. They even smoke their grains with peat smoke. These have come a long way in terms of respect in the international community. Way to go Japan!
Canadian whisky is nothing like Scotch except for in spelling. It’s like Canadian bacon. Is it really bacon? Well it comes from a pig. A completely different part of the big. And it’s cut small. I guess it’s like bacon. Canadian whisky is also often called rye whisky to the point that all Canadian whisky is considered “rye.” It’s not real rye whiskey though. It can have as little as 1% in it. These Canadians man. JESUS.
Ok. I hope that wasn’t too complicated. For those of you who didn’t think it was complicated enough and want to talk about distilling or bottling or whatever. Please use the comments. Let’s move on.
Despite not being the oldest “whiskey” is the most common spelling of the word as a generic term in the United States. It’s also the name of all whiskeys produced in the United State or Ireland. Neither American nor Irish whiskey are generally peat smoked.
Irish whiskey has to be made in Ireland. That seems pretty easy to understand. It has to be aged at least 3 years. The Irish kind is triple distilled and aged longer than most American whiskeys. There are 4 only whiskey distillers in Ireland. There used to be more but the economy man. It’s gonna get you. They make a shit ton of whiskeys in these distilleries though. Not just in volume but in terms of labels. An Irish distillery will house multiple labels. Irish whiskey has to be made in Ireland. That seems pretty easy to understand.
Now the American whiskeys. I broke these down into two subsets. We’re keeping it simple ok?
Bourbon –Whiskey that has to be made in the United States. Nice. It has to be sold at least 80 proof and made from 51% corn based mash. Frequently it has a high percentage anyway so that’s not a problem. It also has to be aged in new charred oak barrels, usually this is done for 4 years or more.
97% of it is made in Kentucky. They have iron free limestone filtered water there and that’s said to make the different in taste. It legally does not have to come from Kentucky. If somebody tries to argue this point with you in a bar or in Kentucky DO NOT ENGAGE. Let it go man.
Tennessee Whiskey is basically the same as bourbon and for a lot of trade and legal purposes it is treated as such. Key difference being a maple charcoal filtering called the Lincoln County Process. Also if you tell a Tennessee Whiskey/Kentucky Bourbon lover they are drinking the same thing you’ll have a crazed animal on your hands.
Rye –This used to be the most popular spirit in the country before Prohibition. George Washington actually owned a distillery making it. He didn’t chop down that cherry tree. He hit it while driving drunk on bourbon. Currently there is a distillery in Mount Vernon that sells rye using his recipe. At $95 dollars a bottle. American Rye has to have at least 51% rye. It’s aged in new charred oak barrels like bourbon. Since it’s made with rye instead of corn it’ll have a different flavor. It’s generally spicier and more bitter than bourbon.