Mark Twain said it best, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”
Whisky vs. Whiskey
The debate of the word’s two spellings has been argued to simply be due to the conventions of spelling, but others believe it is purposely done to denote the origin of its production. Whiskey with an “e” is commonly adopted by the Irish and Americans; while Whisky without the “e”, is used by the Scottish, Australians, and Canadians. Americans have been known to use both spellings however, it depends on the producer. Whether you are drinking Whisky or Whiskey it is always an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash, some grains are malted and used in varieties such as barley, corn, rye, and wheat.
The earliest records of this spirit dates back to 1405 in Ireland,, attributing the death of a chieftain for drinking too much of it. Scotland follows closely behind in 1494, where the king orders Friar John Cor to make 500 bottles.
Scotch Whisky is made from a malted grain called barley and it is only produced Scotland. It is divided into 5 categories: single malt Scotch Whisky, single grain Scotch Whisky, blended malt Scotch Whisky, blended grain Scotch Whisky, and blended Scotch Whisky. Most often it is simply just called Scotch. In order to be considered Scotch is must follow these 3 rules:
- 40-94.8% ABV (190 US proof)
- Made from water and malted barley
- Minimum 3 years age in oak casks
Whiskey vs. Bourbon Whiskey
Leave it to America to confuse drinkers even further by using both spellings and without a reason or way to differentiate when to use either spelling. America not only “sees” the different spellings, but “raises” them one more, by introducing Bourbon to the market. As the saying goes, all Bourbons are considered Whiskey, but not all Whiskies can be a Bourbon; this is for very similar reasons as Scotch. Any type of grain can be used to make Whiskey and they are all aged in wood barrels, this process was brought to America by Scottish and Irish settlers who began to farm. Like all aspects of this topic there is a debate, disputing whether Bourbon County in Kentucky or Bourbon Street in New Orleans is the reason for the name, but this American spirit has been on the scene since the 19th century and linked most closely to Kentucky, where 95% of all Bourbon is produced.
According to Greg Davis, Maker’s Mark Master Distiller, “Bourbon needs to be produced in America, made from 51% corn, where Whiskey does not, it needs to be stored in new charred-oak barrels and Whiskey does not have to use new or charred barrels, and lastly, to be called bourbon, the liquid needs to be distilled to no more than 160 proof and entered into the barrel at 125.” This is considered common practice and is now regulated by the government due to the Bottle in Bond Act of 1897:
- Produced in the U.S.A
- 51% corn mash
- Aged in new or charred oak barrels
- Distilled to no more than 160 proof
- Bottled at no less than 80 proof
- NO additives
*Many Kentucky distilleries claim they must use water filtered by the limestone shelf in Bourbon County, but this feature is not regulated by the government.
Just a little fun fact, Tennessee Whiskey is straight bourbon, but producers don’t want to label it Bourbon because they filter it through a charcoal process and they feel that puts them in a class of their own.
All whiskey is made from a grain and aged in wood barrels, Whisky is found in Canada and Scotland, Scotch-Whisky uses malted barley and is made in Scotland, Whiskey is found all over the world like Ireland, Japan, and France, and Bourbon Whiskey needs to have corn and aged in charred oak. At the end of the day, Whiskey is a spirit that is continuously evolving and continuously redefining itself.
So, next time you are out, feel confident when you order your cocktail. You can even share your new-found knowledge and educate your friends while looking like you are a real aficionado.
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