Whiskey vs. Whisky: Explaining the difference between the brown liquors

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In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, many will indulge in distilled alcohol whiskey. 

But some newcomers to brown liquor are not aware of the simple difference between “whiskey” and “whisky.”

Whiskey is one of the most enjoyed spirits in the world with successful corporate brands in Japan, Ireland and America. 

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Also, newcomers to brown liquor should also be aware of some key tips for storing whiskey to preserve its taste. 

The drink has been popular dating back centuries in medieval Europe and is a staple in most bars across the western world. 

Was whiskey ever spelled whisky?

Prior to the late 19th century, the global convention was to spell whisky without an “e.” 

This included renowned Irish and American distillers, aligning with the prevalent spelling at the time.

whiskey poured

If you are collecting whiskey, it is recommended that you keep it stored in an upright position to help keep the cork sealed. (iStock)

A pivotal moment arose in 1860 with the passage of the Spirits Act during the Gladstone government — marking a transformative period in the history of whisky spelling.

What’s the difference between whiskey and whisky?

Whiskey stands as a distinct category within the world of brown spirits, cherished worldwide, especially during the grand celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

The art of distillation involves fermenting grains and maturing them in wooden casks, crafting the essence of whiskey.

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There are various types and styles of whisky, and the characteristics can vary based on factors such as the type of grain used, the distillation process and the aging conditions. Common types of whisky include Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey, Bourbon, and Rye whiskey.

However, the spelling difference between whiskey and whisky has to do with where the brown liquor was produced.

In Ireland, the preferred spelling is typically “whiskey” with an “e.” 

In contrast, in Scotland and Canada, it is commonly spelled “whisky” without the “e.” 

A bottle of whiskey

Bottles of Jim Beam brand bourbon whiskey are shown at the James B. Beam distillery in Clermont, Kentucky. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

For example, whiskey is representative of spirits that are produced mostly in Ireland and the United States from brands such as Jameson and Wild Turkey. These two markets are considered two of the largest in the world for the consumption of brown liquor. 

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In the realm of whisky, the term encompasses Scottish, Canadian or Japanese grain spirits, each distinguished by unique characteristics and production methods. Notable examples include Glenfiddich, Lagavulin, Johnnie Walker, Crown Royal and Yamazaki.

Is Fireball actually whiskey?

Fireball Cinnamon Whisky is a flavored whisky, but it does have some distinctions from traditional whiskies. While it shares similarities with whisky in terms of its alcohol content and production process, Fireball is known for its distinctive cinnamon flavor. 

It is often categorized as a flavored or liqueur-style whisky due to the added flavorings. The base spirit of Fireball is typically a Canadian whisky, and it undergoes a flavoring process to infuse it with cinnamon.

Scotch whiskies on the shelf

Scotch whiskies are shown at Jensen’s Liquors in Miami on March 8, 2021. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

This makes Fireball Cinnamon Whisky a flavored and sweetened spirit with a unique taste profile.

Are bourbon and whiskey the same thing?

For most newcomers to the brown liquor scene, the differences between bourbon and whiskey may seem very small and unimportant. 

Many people consider bourbon and whiskey to be similar spirits and often refer to them by the same name. However, bourbon is a form of whiskey, but not all whiskey can be related to bourbon.

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Bourbon is American-made whiskey that has a 51% corn mash and must be aged in charred oak barrels. Moreover, bourbon is not allowed to contain any additives or colorings during the distillation process and must be aged within a charred oak barrel for at least two years.

Whiskey, in general, can be distilled anywhere in the world and can be aged in a variety of barrels.

Nightlife-Stock-Images

Whiskey can be enjoyed either dry or with ice. (iStock/Getty Images)

Can you keep whiskey in the fridge?

Individuals who enjoy their bourbon at a colder temperature may keep it in a wine fridge or cooler. The taste of the whiskey will likely not be affected nor will the whiskey expire over the course of any significant time due to the coldness.

However, it is recommended that whiskey not be stored near heat sources such as stoves or radiators.

Additionally, in order to keep the whiskey bottle sealed, the cork must remain moist, which can only be achieved over a long period of time if the whiskey bottle is stored in an upright position.

What are the best whiskeys?

Fox News Digital spoke with Todd Wiesel, co-founder and CEO of BAXUS, a first-of-its-kind digital marketplace for rare wines and spirits. 

When asked for personal whiskey recommendations, Wiesel named several.

“The perfect way to experience both American and Irish whiskey at the same time is Keeper’s Heart,” Wiesel said. “They have a few products on the market now, including two phenomenal blends, one is an Irish + American (Rye) and the other is an Irish + Bourbon.”

Wiesel also recommended Kinsale Spirits, an up-and-coming Irish distillery known for its single malts, barrel finishes and flavor profiles not traditionally seen in Irish whiskies.

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When it comes to American whiskey, Wiesel recommends the Bardstown Bourbon Company and its collaboration cask series: “They finish their bourbons in a variety of unique casks, including rum, amaro, armagnac, red wine and others, which also gives drinkers opportunities to discover new flavors and their personal preferences.”

“The best part about all of these,” Wiesel continued, “is that they are very affordable and incredibly unique, making them the perfect choice for connoisseurs and beginners alike.”

Whiskey Auction Photo 1

The Craft Irish Whiskey Co. makes the Emerald Isle whiskey. (The Craft Irish Whiskey Co.)

What are the best whiskys?

“For whisky,” Wiesel said, “I like to look for IBs (independent bottlers), or ‘indies’ as they are known in the industry.” 

So-called “indies” do not own their own distilleries and instead source whisky from reputable distilleries and bottle it under their own labels. Unfortunately, many such labels are extremely rare in the U.S.

“My go-to favorites are Gordon & Macphail, Single Cask Nation and SMWS — the Scotch Malt Whisky Society,” Wiesel said. “These brands seek out phenomenal and exceptional single casks.”

He also noted that all three brands are readily available in the American market.

“Since the flavor of whisky is so diverse, and the region in which it is made has a big influence on style, being able to try different expressions is a great way to find something you love.”

Will I prefer whiskey to whisky or vice versa?

Wiesel told Fox News Digital that flavor and price are the two most important considerations in purchasing spirits.

“Many people, unfortunately, think that a more expensive bottle is going to be better than a cheaper one, and this is not always the case,” he said, noting that online communities can be an excellent resource for soliciting opinions on spirits from users with varying tastes.

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“Using these resources as a guide can help people understand what to look for or what to avoid. For example, for people who do not like ‘smokey’ or ’peaty’ whisky, it is best to avoid Islay malts, which are traditionally known for their peated flavor.”

“However,” Wiesel continued, “not all malts from Islay are peated, and so having access to those resources can help you find an overlooked bottle.” 

While he finds it hard to pinpoint what would drive a drinker to a certain brand of spirit, Wiesel laid out a few “stereotypical characteristics that can help.”

For example, American whiskey tends to be sweeter than its Scottish cousin, in large part due to its high corn content as well as the presence of caramel and vanilla flavors sourced from its barreling.

Irish whiskey, meanwhile, is generally lighter, while Scottish whisky is known for its incredibly diverse array of flavor profiles and characteristics.

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“For beginners,” Wiesel recommends that “most start with a Speyside or Highlands whisky, which are typically the sweetest and most approachable single malts.”

However, “blends such as Johnnie Walker are also a great place to start exploring whisky as well,” he said.

Phillip Nieto contributed reporting. 

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