A lot of people use the terms whisky an whiskey, and aren’t very sure which one of these is correct. And to answer that question, both actually are.

The word whisky stems from the (Scottish) Gaelic word “uisge-beatha“, which translates into “water of Life”. In the past, all whisky, regardless of where it is produced, was spelled as “whisky” without the e.

Irish whisky labels lacking the e
Old labels for Irish whisky, before the introduction of the e

In the second half of the 19th century, Ireland was the leading producer of whisky, accounting for about 70% of the spirit made worldwide. In 1860, the Spirts Act was introduced, and allowed for the first time to blend malted barley with other types of grain whisky.

Scottish distillers happily took this opportunity to start the process of blending, as it meant a reduction in costs (yes, the jokes about stingy Scottsmen are not entirely based on fiction).

Irish whiskey

The Irish distillers looked for ways to distinguish their superior product, and started adding the e to “whiskey” as a way to do so. This was largely a decision made by individual distilleries, though, and uniformity wasn’t reached until roughly the 1960s.

American whiskey

American whiskey had a similar process. The large number of Irish moving to the USA most likely influenced the decision to go with the “e”, and the initial higher quality of the Irish spirit encouraged the American distillers to adop “whiskey”.

This is still the case for most American whisky, thought there certainly are exceptions. Maker’s Mark, for instance, labels their spirit as “whisky”.

Examples of whisky labels and seals
Examples of whisky labels and seals

Whisky or whiskey

In modern days, consistency seems to have been fund with Scottish whisky and American and Irish Whiskey. Distilleries in other countries mostly stick to using the version without an “e”.



  • United States
  • Ireland