Whisky or Whiskey: What’s the Difference?
If you consider yourself somewhat of a socialite, you’ve probably found that having a general understanding or basic knowledge of wines, and even now beer styles, is always good for a conversation starter. But nothing screams “I’m a sophisticated modern Joe!” quite like the knowledge of whisky.
The first thing we need to get out of the way is the differences between ‘whisky’ and ‘whiskey’. Is there even a difference? Well, yes. The main difference between whisky and whiskey is geography. Essentially, whisky is the Scottish spelling, which means Scotch and similarly processed whiskies take the same spelling. Whiskey is the Irish/American spelling and therefore encompasses Bourbons etc.
So now you know the difference, here’s our whistle stop tour of the wonderful world of style of whisky;
Made in Scotland, over 90% of the whisky consumed around the world is blended Scotch whisky. A ‘Single Malt Scotch’ Scotch is a blend of various whiskies from one distillery, whereas a ‘Blended Scotch’ includes whiskies from multiple distilleries, including grain whiskies. Knowing the difference between brands won’t get you caught out, but knowing the difference between a single malt and a blend will. The distilling of Scotch whisky is subject to a whole load of specific laws. The idea being that the quality of the product can be guaranteed. For example, all Scotch whisky must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years.
American Whiskey (don’t forget the ‘E’)
American Whiskey encompasses a whole host of styles, with people often incorrectly referring to American whiskey simply as ‘Bourbon’. Despite being the world’s best-selling whiskey brand, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, for example, is often referred to as a Bourbon. But as its name suggests, it is a Tennessee whiskey – a different style altogether. Unlike bourbons, Jack Daniel’s is filtered through 10-feet of sugar maple charcoal before it even hits a barrel, and the barrels are only used once. This filtering, known as the Lincoln County Process, is what distinguishes Tennessee Whiskey from your average Bourbon.
Bourbons, however, are a type of American Whiskey. Originally made in Kentucky, when compared to Scotch, Bourbons are usually much lighter and younger. This is due to the high humidity and way in which they’re produced. By law, a bourbon’s mash must contain at least 51% corn. As a result, bourbons mature more quickly than Scotches and are usually characterised by their sweetness, flavour (especially vanilla) and smoothness in texture.
Irish Whiskey has gained some popularity in the last couple of years and nowadays there are many different ranges and flavour profiles. One of the key differences between Scotch and Irish whiskey is the distillation process. Though whisky is only distilled twice, Irish whiskey is distilled three times to give it a notable lightness. Scotch is also only kept in the cask for a minimum of two years, while Irish whiskey is aged for a minimum of three. Peat is rarely used in the Irish whiskey mating process too, giving it a smoother finish than a smoky, earthy Scotch.
Japanese Whisky continues to go from strength to strength. In the beginning, producers in Japan set out to learn everything they could from Scotch whisky, including the process and the serve. But more recently, Japanese whiskies have begun to favour sweet, slightly fruity flavoured whiskies which offer a smooth texture.
Believe it or not, India consumes a vast amount of whisky – the most in the world if you look at it from a pure volume perspective. So much so, 8 of the top 10 best-selling whiskies in the world are actually Indian. Producers aren’t restricted to tight regulations like in Scotland and the US, which means they can get really creative. In general, Indian whiskies have a higher ABV as the climate means more water evaporates during maturation. Most Indian whisky sold outside Europe is also usually made mainly of molasses, making it a hybrid blend and more like rum than a traditional whisky.
So there we have it! Now you’ve mastered the malt, take a look at our Rough Guide to Styles of Beer.