A Spirited Discussion: The Cultural Differences Between Whiskies

What’s in a name? When it comes to whiskey, apparently, a lot.

That which is one letter off may seem like just another run-on-the-mill transatlantic spelling difference, and the English lexicon has many of them, so for those familiar enough with the transatlantic differences in English dialect, whisky may sound like an Americanization whereas whiskey is the one native to the British Isles. This is actually backwards.

Image source: scotchmaltwhisky.co.uk
                            Image source: scotchmaltwhisky.co.uk

Not only do these spelling differences refer to specific types of drink, the longer word “whiskey” is the one currently used in America. “Whisky” is native to the island of Great Britain (specifically Scotland, from whence it received its alternate name, Scotch) and has currency in Canada and Japan.

The spelling difference between whisky and whiskey is largely the result of a difference between how the spirit is spelled in the Scottish Gaelic and Irish languages. That which is spelled “whisky” refers to the Scottish variant whereas the ones spelled “whiskey” refers to an Irish derivative, which gained currency in the United States through Irish immigrants.

Image source: irelandwanderer.com
                                      Image source: irelandwanderer.com

The differences between the three main traditions of the spirit go beyond just a letter. Irish whiskeys tend to be smoother affairs due to being typically being distilled thrice (as opposed to American whiskeys and Scottish whiskies, which are distilled twice). Scotch whiskies use a wide variety of stills (and a more diverse set of flavors) whereas Irish and many American ones prefer rounded ones and have typically softer flavors as a result.

Moreover, whereas Scotch whiskies are based on solely on barley, Irish and American whiskeys use blends of grains unique to their nations of origin. Irish whiskeys incorporate barley and any number of other grains due to its historically poor agrarian economy, whereas American whiskeys use entirely different raw materials as a whole.

Former tech startup operative Adam Quirk is the co-founder of craft distillery Cardinal Spirits, which produces premium spirits using locally acquired ingredients. For more discussion about the distilled beverage industry, follow this Tumblr blog.

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