What’s The Difference Between ‘Whiskey’ and ‘Whisky’?

There’s ‘Whiskey’ And Then There’s ‘Whisky

When it comes to spirits, I’ve always been a fan of very good small-batch bourbon. But even though all bourbon is whiskey, not all whiskey is bourbon. And… not all whiskey is whisky.  If that seems confusing, it’s not.  Allow me to explain.  I’m Irish, which means I’m uniquely qualified to help y’all by putting some periods at the end of some sentences.

Whiskies come from all over the world.  The spirits from Scotland are called “whisky” (with no “e” before the “y”).  But if you go to England and order ‘whisky’, you’ll get Scotch. And the brown spirits from Ireland are referred to as “whiskey” – with the “e”.  All of the stuff made in America is also “whiskey” – Kentucky or Tennessee, it’s called “Whiskey”.  However, the infamous nightclub on the Sunset Strip is called “The Whisky A Go-Go” …or just “The Whisky”. Now…THIS may get a wee bit confusing, BUT (there’s my big “But”) because the club is here in the United States, if you go to The Whisky, you will drink whiskey (unless your order Scotch or Rye, which I’ll  get to later).

Now, all bourbon is ‘whiskey’ because, in order to qualify as ‘bourbon’, the spirit must be distilled in Kentucky or Tennessee. So, bourbon is a uniquely American beverage.  And here in the USA, we spell it “whiskey”. Bourbon is an American-made sour mash whiskey. Bourbon County, Kentucky is the actual home of the first bourbon whiskey.

Some whiskey spirits which are considered by many to be ‘bourbon’ are actually NOT bourbon. Jack Daniels is its own thing. Jack is a Tennessee whiskey, distilled in its own unique way. Jim Beam is, in fact, bourbon and is distilled in accordance with the process of making bourbon. Beam is made is Clermont, Kentucky.  Maker’s Mark?  They spell if without the “e” just because they choose to.  I know, right?  The Samuels family decided to pay homage to their Scottish-Irish heritage and spell it like it is in the Old Country.  It is, however, an all-American bourbon.  And yes, Wild Turkey is a straight Kentucky bourbon.

There are other types of spirits that qualify as ‘whisky’ or ‘whiskey’.  Scotch, from Scotland, is Scotch Whisky. It is distilled primarily from barley.  Bourbon is distilled from good ol’ American-grown corn. And rye? Well, it’s distilled from rye. And has a very astringent aftertaste. That’s what make rye a good choice for cocktails, but not for sipping.

I hope this helped explain a few things.  Try a heavy, thick glass with a finger of very good small-batch bourbon (I recommend the ‘1792’ brand, but be careful…it’s 90-proof!)) and allow yourself to breathe in the flavor through your tongue.  Then you’ll know why I’m a fan. And always -ALWAYS- enjoy yours at home or with a designated driver.

Happy sipping!


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