Whisky or whiskey? Some of you may think it’s just a matter of orthography, but there is a distinct difference between these two drinks. The controversy will be brought up surely during the Saint Patrick’s Day – when both Scotch whisky and Irish whisk(e)y will be amongst the top beverages throughout the world.
Saint Patrick’s Day’s origins are blurred, but the celebration is mainly associated with Ireland, as Patrick is their patron saint. There is actually a whole narrative about him becoming a Christian and a priest, which can be found in The Declaration – a document believed to have been written by St Patrick himself, describing the way he became the man who evangelised Northern Ireland. The other customs associated with the celebration also refer to legendary events from the saint’s life – wearing green clothes and shamrocks is associated with a legend in which Patrick used the shamrock to describe the notion of the Holy Trinity to the Irish Pagans.
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The celebrations are held on 17th March because that was the day when Patrick died. The biggest festivities are organised in Downpatrick, where the saint is allegedly buried. The drinking custom is said to be connected with another legend. Patrick bought a measure of whiskey from an innkeeper – but it certainly wasn’t full, and Patrick took the opportunity to teach the man a lesson that would make him more generous. St. Patrick said that there was a demon in the inn’s cellar that could not be banished because it fed on the innkeeper’s greed and lack of generosity. The man was horrified and changed his attitude – after some time, Patrick returned to find that the man now filled the glasses fairly and was good and honest. So Patrick took the inn-keeper to the cellar, where they found the devil skinny and starving – Patrick banished the demon away and said that everyone should have a sip of alcohol during his feast day to commemorate this. Whatever the origins were – the tradition of beer and whiskey drinking stays strong. So, which whisk(e)y orthography is correct, what are you actually drinking and what is the difference anyway?
Read something about the Picts – you may be in the 10%!
Whiskey is generally the name for a liquor most commonly of Irish or American origin. Whisky is a term associated mostly with the Scottish version and the liquors produced in Japan (although the word Scotch belongs only to the liquor produced in Scotland). What is more, the Scottish version is distilled twice, while the other ones are distilled three times, which results in a smoother taste. Much of the confusion arises from the fact that the spelling ‘whisky’ is the only one accepted by the Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits in the USA. On the other hand, The New York Times names everything ‘whiskey’ – whatever the origin of the drink. The confusion becomes even bigger if we count in the misspellings such as ‘wisky’ or ‘wiskey’, and the fact that the Japanese and Indian versions are, like Scotch whisky, spelled without an ‘e’. But the deeper into the production process we look, the more differences can be spotted between the Scotch and other whisk(e)ys, however spelled or pronounced. The shape of the still used for production in Scotland vary much more than in the distilleries in America or Ireland, so the Scotch scents and flavours are more diverse. Secondly, the Scots use peat to dry the malted barley – which gives a stronger and smokier flavour than the one achieved in the US and Ireland, where wood and other fuels are used. Thirdly, Scotch is made only with malted barley, while other whisk(e)ys may be made with the addition of some other types of grains. In fact, history and economics decided this; barley is quite an expensive grain, so cheaper and more readily available ones are mixed together with it in many non-Scotch whisk(e)ys. What is more, the American climate and soil is different from that found in the British Isles, so settlers had to use different methods to grow their grains and distill the liquors – hence the difference in taste and general character of the finished drinks.
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The differences, similarities, types and distillery characteristics are all quite confusing. Whatever the actual spelling is, we recommend checking what suits your tastes best. Whisk(e)y isn’t about the spelling – the national Scottish drink is a big part of the British history, and now it has become a trademark for both Scots and Irish people worldwide. Wherever you are – we hope you’ll have a sip of nice, genuine Scotch on 17th March!