Whisky not Whiskey? And where does Tennessee come into it?

Posted August 13th at 2:25pm

There's a world of great whisky out there, but why all the names? Here's a quick explanation from us here at The Summerton Club

There are a few suggested explanations for how we got to our two spellings of whisk(e)y, such as Irish whiskey producers adding the 'e' to differentiate from Scotch whisky and a difference in translation between the Scottish and Irish, from the Gaelic usquebaugh, meaning the water of life. Whatever the reason for the difference, these two spellings were then taken with immigration flows from these two nations, which sees whisky taken to Canada and whiskey taken to America, although there are notable exceptions such as Maker's Mark.

The recent wave of new whisky distilleries setting up around the world (for example in Austria, India and Taiwan) have a preference for whisky without the 'e', which is the result of Scotch whisky being seen as the pinnacle of the whisky world, hence the style they are trying to emulate in flavour and name.

Whilst we might be unclear on the origins of the name, we do know what makes a whisky; fermented grain mash (barley, corn, rye or wheat) is distilled then aged in wood casks, leaving it with its distinctive brown colour.

Within the term whisky there are number of different styles, here are some of the key production differences...

Scotch Whisky

Scotch must be made in Scotland from water and malted barley, to which whole grain from other cereals may be added (and yeast for fermentation), although Single Malt is made solely from malted barley. Scotch must be aged for at least three years in oak casks and bottled at at least 40% ABV. Caramel is the only additive allowed, which is used for colour.

There are five producing regions of Scotch (Highland, Lowland, Islay, Speyside and Campbeltown), that vary by geography and production styles, which impact flavour characteristics. We’ll come back to this another time.

Irish Whiskey

Whilst Scotch is mainly distilled twice, Irish whiskey normally goes through three rounds of distillation. It must be made on the island of Ireland, of any cereal grain, and like Scotch, aged for at least three years in wooden casks.

Bourbon Whiskey

Believed to be named after the Old Bourbon area of Kentucky, which is an area that includes Bourbon County today. Contrary to popular belief, Bourbon can be made outside of Kentucky, but must be made in the US, from at least 51% corn and aged in new, charred oak casks.

Straight bourbon must be aged for at least two years and be free of additives.

Tennessee Whiskey
Tennessee whiskey is a Bourbon made in Tennessee and filtered through sugar maple charcoal, a method called the Lincoln County Process. (American) 

Rye Whiskey
Rye whiskey is made from at least 51% rye and aged for over two years

Canadian (Rye) Whisky
Canadian rye whisky is as old as the country, it must be produced and aged in Canada, but does not need to contain any rye.

New Age/World Whisky
In recent years a number of nations have joined seen distilleries being built in their lands, most of which do not have regulations to conform to but are generally modelled on single malt Scotch whisky. Notable highlights here include Japanese, Swedish and Taiwanese whiskies.

This isn't an exhaustive list, but it should help give you a bit of an understanding of the different styles. We will come back to this topic in more detail.