Whisky. Nectar of the gods. Morning dew of the barrel. Rain from heaven. Sit back, pour yourself a glass, grab your tobacco smoking device of choice, and ponder the mysteries of the universe. If you’re the smooth, super-spy type, have it on the rocks with a side of espionage. If you’re more of rough ‘n tumble leatherneck, sip it neat while chomping on a cigar. Whatever your preference, after a long day, there are few things better than enjoying top-shelf whisky.
As George Bernard Shaw said: ““Whisky is liquid sunshine.”
Or is it spelled whiskey (with an “e”)? Does it even matter?
If you want to show the world that you’re a person of class and not an uncultured, moonshine guzzling buffoon, then yes, it does matter.
In this article, you’ll learn the subtle, yet key difference between whiskey and whisky.
But before we sort out the spelling question, we need to answer some other questions first.
First things first. If you don’t know what whisky is, you’ll look foolish no matter how you spell it.
Broadly speaking, whisky is a spirit distilled from fermented grain mash and then aged in wooden barrels. All whisky must be distilled at a minimum of 40% and be no more than 94.8% alcohol by volume.
Within the broad category of whisky there are numerous subcategories:
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Whisky cannot simply be dumped into any old container and guzzled recklessly. It is a drink to be savored, a liquid to be loved. As such, it is to be consumer properly and given the respect it deserves.
As Haruki Murakami said, “Whiskey, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation. You gaze first, then it’s time to drink.”
When drinking whisky, consider following these steps:
Ideally, you will consume whisky from a glass. Other materials can potentially taint the flavor of your whisky, sullying the sensual experience. Do NOT do whisky the injustice of drinking it from a red Solo cup, or some other lesser vessel.
As we say on our blog:
"Whisky has been consumed and enjoyed for literally ages. Because it has been a beloved spirit for generations, there are several different glasses that can be used to enhance the experience. When it comes to whisky, the glass is not just the vehicle for getting the liquid into your mouth, but a device to enhance the aroma and the taste."
Three options for glasses are:
Used by whisky lovers for years, the tumbler is a simple, yet elegant way to enjoy a glass on your back porch. Typically composed of cut glass and of medium height, it usually has a weight ratio of 80/20 from the base to the top. When you stride confidently to the bar and ask for a whisky on the rocks, you’ll probably get it in a tumbler.
The snifter is designed to bring the aroma of the whisky up to the nose of the drinker, enhancing and enriching the drinking experience. The stem and base also allow the drinker to swirl the liquid, enhancing the aroma.
Generally speaking, tumblers or snifters are fine for drinking whisky. If you’re really committed, however, the Glencairn should be your glass of choice. In fact, many whisky aficionados only use Glencairn glasses, and it’s considered the industry standard by whisky judges. Designed specifically to allow you to “nose” the whisky, the Glencairn is the ultimate whisky drinking experience. The base on the Glencairn also allows you to swirl the whisky, releasing the fragrant aromas.
If you really want to up your whisky game, go Glencairn.
Drinking whisky neat refers to drinking it straight, with no ice, while on the rocks means with ice.
Whisky experts advise drinking everything neat to allow you to get the full, original flavor. Drinking whisky neat allows you to taste what the maker originally intended. To pull every ounce of flavor from the liquid. To sample the complex flavors and textures that go into every drop.
That being said, many people find the taste of neat whisky too strong, and need a bit of water to dilute the taste. If you want to keep the flavor close to the original, add a bit of tap water. If you want to chill your whisky, add a large, round ice cube, which will melt at a slower rate than smaller cubes.
If you want to chill your whisky without diluting it at all, you can use a whisky stone.
Now that you’ve properly prepared your whisky, it’s time to enjoy it. Before sipping, put your nose in the glass and smell deeply. The first smell will probably be mostly alcohol, so take 2 or 3 more sniffs. Let the aroma waft around you, like a delightful cloud of bliss.
Then take a small sip and let it roll around in your mouth. Pick out as many flavors as you can. Look for flavors of vanilla, caramel, and toffee.
The folks over at Whisky Advocate recommend the following:
"Now go ahead and taste the whiskey. Make sure you coat your entire tongue and let it linger on the palate for a little while before swallowing. Is it thick on your palate or thin? What flavors do you taste? Does the whiskey taste the same way it smells? Do the flavors evolve on the palate or just stay the same? After you swallow, does the flavour fade away quickly or does it linger on the palate?"
Now enjoy your whisky over the next 30-60 minutes! Whatever you do, don’t rush it. Throwing back shots may have been your thing in college, but now it’s time to actually appreciate the act of drinking.
Here’s a short video with some additional recommendations on how to drink your whisky:
Now to answer the question of the hour! Are you drinking whisky or whiskey?
Traditionally, American and Irish liquors have been called “whiskey”. So, bourbon, which is produced exclusively in the United States has always been considered whiskey. On the other hand, Canadian, Scottish, and Japanese liquors have been called “whisky”. Hence, Scotch is whisky.
Of course, this causes a problem. What if you’re an American writer talking about Scotch. Do you spell it “whiskey” or “whisky”? And does it even matter?
Until recently, the New York Times simply used the American spelling for everything, calling it all “whiskey”. As you can imagine, this made some very dedicated and defensive drinkers upset. Scotch drinkers made it quite clear to the paper that they were drinking “whisky”, not “whiskey”. In response, the paper decided to spell every spirit in accordance with its country of origin. American and Irish whiskey would include the “e”, Scotch, Canadian, and Japanese would not.
Here’s a simple way to remember it: if the country contains the letter “e” (AmErica or IrEland) it’s spelled “whiskey”, with an “e”. Otherwise, it’s “whisky”.
So when you invite your friends to come over for a fine beverage, please, please, please spell it correctly. If you’re drinking bourbon, don’t invite your friends over for “whisky”. They will most likely laugh at you and call you names.
Whisky is not simply a beverage. It is a way of living. A mindset. It is for those who want to slow down and enjoy the finer things in life. For those who know that life is to be savored. For those who know how to work hard, yet also breathe deeply.
Mark Twain famously said, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” We heartily agree with Mr. Twain.
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