Looking for Scotch Whiskey?

Few people know, that there are two different spellings of whiskey. Whiskey is popular in the US and Ireland. But the world's biggest whisky distilling country Scotland is spelling its whisky without an e in front of the y.

 

There was only one spelling of whisky in former times. Whisky was spelled the 'British' way. This was not surprising, because Ireland was part of the British Empire. Also whisky was produced in the same tedious manual ways in pot stills in Scotland and Ireland. This began to change in the first half of the 19th century, when the Irishman Aeneas Coffey revolutionized the production of whisky. He improved the existing column stills for the use in the whisky production and multipled the output of the distilleries. But the Irish didn't like his invention and so he moved to Scotland to become successful.

Coloum still
An Irish Coloum still
(Cooley distillery)
Pot Still
A Scottish Pot still
(Aberlour)

As a result the British Empire was flooded by cheap Scotch Whisky to the disadvantage of the Irish. The Irish complained several times to the Crown, that the Scots may not name their industrialized product whisky. After decades of struggles a Royal Whisky Commission was appointed in 1908 to find out, if this Scotch distillate could be named whisky.

It happened as we all know by now, that the commission decided in favor of Scotland and against Ireland. In the following years, several things happened. The Irish fought their war for independence, in which they separated from the empire in 1921. But they also lost by this the complete commonwealth as trading partners. This was devastating for the export of Irish whisky. And secondly they decided to spell their whisky from now on as whiskey. A second class of Irish whiskey appeared on the market.

More Irish then Scots left their homeland for the New World in the following big depression. And therefore the Irish spelling of Whiskey was taken over by the distillers in the United States.

Lessons learned? Ask for a Scotch Whisky or an Irish Whiskey. There is no Scotch Whiskey or an Irish Whisky on the market. But there are some distillers in the US, who have decided in the past to name their whiskies without the e (Maker's Mark, George Dickel). And most of Canada typically use the Scottish spelling of whisky.

The staircase wit in history is the later change of the production methods in Scotland and Ireland. Ireland had to follow the way of Scotland and change its production to coffey stills and cheap whiskey to stay competitive. But Ireland did not succeed and lost all but two distilleries in bankruptcies until the mid 1960s. Today, appr. more than 95% of Irelands whiskey output is cheap column still whiskey. 

Starting in the 1980s Scotland sold more and more old fashioned Single Malt Scotch Whisky produced in pot stills to the world. Today more than 15% of the exported Scotch is expensive Pot Still whisky. And this whisky category is growing fast. It took again decades until the Irish distillers in the republic of Ireland established their own category of Single Pot Still Whiskey. But this is another story.