Something simple, for our second Fib of the Week: ‘You know it’s Scotch if it’s spelled whisky', or: 'Only the Scots spell it whisky’. Firstly, let’s put to bed any questions about how it’s spelled for Scotch whisky - always whisky, never an ‘e’.
It’s commonly said with quite a degree of accuracy that Irish and American whiskey is correctly spelled with the ‘e’, although some premium producers in America have taken to dropping the vowel in an effort to be associated more with Scotch production methods and quality. Frankly, this is silly, because there are some great American whiskeys out there produced in a whole range of styles, very much not limited to bourbons or wheaters. The reason for this spelling is thought by some to have to do with pronunciation when, in the time of non-standardised spelling, a Northern Irish accent would elongate the vowels, and thus to represent this pronunciation the ‘e’ in whiskey. As we also know, the 18th and 19th centuries saw a great deal of Irish immigration to America, albeit alongside Scottish emigration too, and thus as many of the distilleries in America were founded on Irish expertise, the ‘whiskey’ spelling became the norm.
This doesn’t necessarily explain why Scotland should want to not use the ‘e’, although the accent explanation may partly account for it. I think it’s probably fair to argue that Scotland maybe just wanted to be different and emphasise its product, to delineate between mainly pot still production of Scotch malt whisky and the mainly coffee still continuous distillation approach favoured by the Irish. It’s been said, however, that it took a long time for the spelling of the word ‘whisky’ itself to be standardised in Scotland, with some Scottish publications throughout the early 1800s apparently retaining the ‘e’ spelling, although we’ve never noticed that ourselves in the few we’ve read.
And what about the many international distilleries that have managed to enter the market in the last decade or so? Well, obviously the best thing to do is read the label, but almost every country other than American and Ireland consciously adopts the Scottish spelling. No, this is not because they want to pass off their spirit as Scotch (and honestly, usually it’s just as good if not better). It’s simply because very many of their distillers, usually the majority, trained in Scotch production methods and then set up distilleries along Scottish lines. The Scotch approach is taken and only subtly and innovatively altered to reflect place, and that’s because it’s so damn good. So let’s not begrudge anyone an ‘e’. Mimicry is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, after all! Slàinte!