Is It Whiskey or Whisky? Find Out

Whether you are an enthusiast or just a dabbler, the words whiskey and whisky have differences between them, and there are reasons (well, mainly one) as to why the two versions of the spelling exist. So, is it whiskey or whisky?

What’s the Need for Two Spelling Versions of This Fine Spirit?

I don’t know who makes these kinds of decisions, but technically speaking, both spellings are correct; however, the difference comes in intent and usage — based on geographic region.

  1. Whiskey: This version is chiefly used by American and Irish producers.
  2. Whisky: In contrast, spirits distilled in Japan, Scotland, and Canada have this version of the spelling engraved for them.

Further, the dissimilarity in the spelling is also noticed in their plural versions. So:

  • The plural of Whiskey is Whiskeys.
  • The plural of Whisky is Whiskies.

Other Interesting Tidbits

  1. Suppose it feels cumbersome to remember the uniqueness of these spellings (and believe me it is). In that case, you can use the trick that countries with the letter ‘E’ in their spellings (so the United States & Ireland) use the version with ‘e.’ Countries without the letter ‘E’ in their name use the version without. I picked up on this neat practice from Kitchn — a renowned food magazine.
  2. What about Scotch Whisky? As you may have guessed, this term can only be coined to whiskies produced and bottled, in all of its entirety, in Scotland. In other words, any scotch whisky would be spelled without an ‘e.’
  3. Bourbon? Similar to Scotch, conceptually, a whiskey can be called a bourbon only if it’s made in The United States. There are a few other rules it needs to pass to qualify it as a Bourbon, but as far as geography goes, that’s how it is.
    • Here’s another interesting one: All Bourbons are whiskeys. But, not all whiskeys are bourbons.

Do Publishers Follow This Rule?

I am unsure, but I want to say that many do not as per my observation. Even today, I notice the incorrect usage in so many online publications. Although, as we’ve established, it is cumbersome to think of it every single time.

On the other hand, it may also be due to a very simple reason that they do not actually know the difference, or there aren’t any laws that force the publishers to behave this way (unsure on this also) — so to save everyone’s time, they just stick to one version.

What you may notice though, is that American publishers tend to incline with whiskey, naturally or with knowledge, and say magazines from Scotland, favor the other variation. I suppose where you live and what you drink does make an impact, after all?

As far as magazines and publications whose specialty is liquor, I believe they ensure to make this distinction in their writings — which in my opinion, earns their trust and is the right thing to do! The last thing you want is one of them going with the wrong version — and catching some flak.

Speaking of, The New York Times did catch some in 2019, when they decided to go with one version (with the ‘e’). They quickly started getting a series of complaints, so the respected newspaper chose to make the change to spell based on how it needs to be — which honestly, I think they should have done from the get-go.

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As far as I am concerned, I prefer the shorter version. It’s probably because I’ve enjoyed more scotch whiskies than say bourbons. It’s the spelling version I’ve mostly seen, and continue to see in my everyday life.

However, when the topic or the context asks for the sincerity and the seriousness required, I do make sure to separate the two. Worse case, if I am not quite certain, I look up the brand in Google search Images, and see how the brand spells it out. That obviously, would clear my confusion.

Hopefully, the next time you wonder if it’s whiskey or whisky, you know the answer. (It can take a little bit of practice).