Mike Parker

When is Whisky, Whiskey? And other curiosities

Wednesday, December 12, 2018 at 8:24 AM
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The name, whisky, derives from the Gaelic, Uisge beatha or usquebaugh, translated as “water of life.” Depending on who you choose to believe, this spirit was birthed either on the Emerald Isle or in bonnie Scotland. Both lands lay claim to the honor, and both are known for their unique varieties of whisky. Fans of Irish whiskey (with the -ey) typically refer to the liquor simply as “whiskey,” while aficionados of Scotch whisky (with the -y) call it “Scotch.”

Most of the whiskey (with the -ey) produced in the United States is referred to as Bourbon whiskey, although there is a special category produced only in the state of Tennessee that is referred to as, you guessed it, Tennessee whiskey (Jack Daniels is the most famous brand of Tennessee whiskey).

Most producers outside of the U.S. and Ireland refer to the spirit as whisky (with just the -y), and while there are a multitude of variations on the theme, all whiskies have a few common denominators:

All whiskies are distilled from fermented grain and bottled with an alcohol content of at least 40% (80 proof). Most are aged in wooden barrels, although there is a huge variance in the type of wood used to make the barrels, the aging time, the type of grain or grains, and the distillation process. Scotch and Irish whiskey is typically produced from barley, while Bourbon must derive from at least 51% corn. There is single malt, and blended, and pot stilled whiskey, not to mention rye whisky, which is produced primarily in Canada and is interchangeably called Canadian whisky, and is distilled from a blend of grains that ironically includes very little rye. And if you want to get a bit more exotic, Japanese distillers began producing whisky in the 1920s. I’m not sure what they call it in Japan, but in America, Japanese whisky is called… “whisky.”