Most people think that the two spellings of whisky/whiskey are interchangeable, with variation due to regional preferences or personal choice. There's an element of truth to this, in that both words originate from the Gaelic 'uisce beatha' which means 'water of life'. The Scottish derivation of this is 'whisky' whilst the Irish favour 'whiskey'. However, that's not all there is to it.
Traditional Scotch whisky is, firstly, never spelt with an 'e'. To be able to call itself Scotch whisky, though, it must also fulfil certain other conditions, including being produced and matured entirely in Scotland, being matured for a minimum of three years on oak barrels, and being made from 100% malted barley. Irish whiskey, on the other hand, is always spelt with an 'e'. Like Scotch, it must be matured for at least three years. In addition, however, it is distilled three times. It may also contain a distillate of barley or malt or a small amount of grain spirit, and uses very little peat, or none at all. This lack of peat limits the smoky taste in Irish whiskey, which is one key taste test you can do if you're not sure whether you're drinking Irish or Scotch!
American whiskey - which can be either bourbon or rye - is spelt with an 'e' because widespread Irish emigration to the US carried the traditional Irish spelling to the States. Bourbon is a whiskey that is made from over 50% corn, with rye and malted barley. Originally produced in the small area of Kentucky from which it takes its name, Bourbon has been produced across America since the mid-1960s. Rye whiskey is similar to Bourbon but is made with over 50% rye. Both whiskeys are matured in fresh oak casks, but rye whiskey is mellowed with charcoal before maturation. It tends to contain spicier notes than Bourbon.
Japanese whisky, often considered an outlier in the market but growing in popularity, is made in a very similar way to Scotch whisky, save for the fact that Japanese whisky has no legal minimum maturation.
So there you have it - some basic history of the differences between whisky/whiskey production around the world so that you can demonstrate your expertise next time you purchase one of our exceptional whisky gift sets and enjoy a dram (or two)!
Whisky Glass Gift Set by Lillywhite & Brown
Whisky Stone Gift Set by Lillywhite & Brown