Whisk(e)y, or Whisky/ey
The big question is…. Are WHISKEY and WHISKY just two different spellings of the same word, or are they two slightly different words describing separate groups of spirits?
Bottom line, no matter how you spell it, the word itself is a term depicting spirits distilled from a mash of fermented grains. Within the broad category of said spirit, there are many sub-categories, including Bourbon, Rye, Tennessee, Scotch, Irish, and Canadian. The manufacture of each of these types of spirits are guided and regulated by the government of the spirit’s country of origin.
Until recently, writers and editors (excluding specialized spirits publications) tackled the problem by spelling the spirit based on the intended audience or on personal knowledge and preferences, regardless of the spirit’s country of origin. From Kentucky bourbon to Islay malts, the spellings were used interchangeably.
At the turn of the 21st century, the NY Times newspaper changed the industry standard style guide to follow the spelling of each type of spirit according to the way favored by its country of origin. This origin based approach has since become the adopted standard during spirit dialogue.
American and Irish liquor producers tend to favor the spelling WHISKEY, while Canadian, Scottish, and Japanese producers tend to favor WHISKY.
Here’s a quick way to remember how some of the world’s biggest producers spell their products:
Note: Some prominent American brands, such as George Dickel, Maker’s Mark, and Old Forester use the ‘whisky’ spelling on their labels