The “e” in Whiskey

The “e” in Whiskey

October 7, 2023 0 By Editor

In the early 1700s both Scotland and Ireland commonly spelled “whisky” without an “e”.[1]Micallef, Joseph V. “Is It Whisky Or Whiskey And Why It Matters”. Last modified May 17, 2018. … Continue reading This is not surprising as the Irish Language and Scotts Gaelic are both Celtic languages.[2]Greene, David. “Celtic languages”. Encyclopedia Britannica, Last changed 18 Apr. 2017, While Scotts Gaelic was spoken in the Highlands, people in the Lowlands commonly spoke a different language, the Scotts language.[3] “Language”. Accessed December 6 2021. In the early 1600’s some 200,000 people from the Scottish Lowlands[4]Hess, Mary A. “Scottish and scotch-irish americans. Accessed December 15, 2021. (speaking the Scots language) migrated to the Plantation of Ulster, Ireland,[5]Ulster-Scots Agency. “What is Ulster-Scots.”  Accessed December 8, 2021. bringing the Scotts Language with them.[6]BBC. “Northern Ireland”. Accessed on December 15, 2021. The descents of these immigrants are called Ulster-Scots in the United Kingdom and Ireland and Scots-Irish (or Scotch-Irish) in North America.[7]Adams, Wendy Lynn. The Nottingham Settlement, a North Carolina Backcountry Community. November 2009. Chapter 2, p 46.  … Continue reading During the 1700’s, the Plantation of Ulster (Northern Ireland) was the only area that spelled whiskey with an “e”.[8]Mark. The History of Whisky vs Whiskey.  Accessed on December 16, 2021. In the early to mid 1700’s several hundred thousand Scots-Irish immigrated to North America bringing the “whiskey” spelling with them.[9]Leyburn, James G. The Scotch-Irish.  Accessed December 12, 2021

In 1830 Aeneas Coffey patented an improved device to distill alcohol ‒ the column still (also called a continuous still, or patent still, or Coffey still). The column still enables a constant process of distillation and a higher concentration of alcohol in the final product. The more efficient column still produced lower cost whisky; some would say it also created less flavorful whisky.[10]The Oxford Artisan Distillery. “A Complete History of Whisky” . Lat modified October 13, 2021. Distillers in Scotland took to blending new and old whiskies produced by column stills to imitate the taste of traditional single-batch pot distilled Irish Whisky.[11]Wikipedia. “Irish Whiskey” last updated on 23 December 2021. The Irish then adapted the “whiskey” spelling (with an “e”) to differentiate their product from the now similar tasting, but less expensive, Scottish “whisky”.[12]Micallef, Joseph V. “Is It Whisky Or Whiskey And Why It Matters”. Last modified May 17, 2018.  … Continue reading

An interesting part of this story is that Ireland and the United States uses the Scots influenced spelling “whiskey”, and the rest of the world uses the Gaelic influenced spelling of “whisky”. 

Scottish Gaelic and the Irish Language (sometimes called Irish Gaelic) are both Goidelic languages, a branch of Insular Gaelic, Celtic languages.[13]Britannica. “Goidelic languages”.  Accessed on December 12, 2021. Scottish Gaelic was spoken in the Scottish Highlands. The Scots Language was spoken in the Scottish Lowlands.[14] “Language”. Accessed December 6 2021. Scots and English are both Germanic languages and share Old English as a common ancestor.

Germanic languages (English, German, Scots…), Romance languages (Spanish, French, Portuguese…), and Celtic Languages (Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Breton…) are all Indo European languages.[15]Violatti, Cristian . Indo-European Languages. Last updated May 5, 2014. The odd part of this thought train — the Irish in spelling “whiskey” use a Germanic influenced spelling which at least in language taxonomy, is closely linked to English; the rest of the English speaking world (except the United States), and a good part of the non-native English speaking world, use the Celtic influenced spelling “whisky”. Ay ay ay!

example of a Whiskey Coffey Still
Coffey Still from Kilbeggan Distillery in County Westmeath in Ireland[16]Coffey Still, County Westmeath in Ireland / HighKing / Creative Commons licensed, see
example of a Pot Still
Whiskey Pot Still, Islay in Scotland[17]Whiskey Pot Still, Islay in Scotland /Finlay McWalter /Creative Commons licensed, see

Shows a portion of the Indo-European language family tree.  In this classification system, German and English are in the Germanic branch; Irish and Scottish Gaelic are in the Celtic branch.


In the 1600’s “whisky” was the common spelling in Ireland and Scotland; the Irish spoke the Irish Language (Irish Gaelic) and the Scottish spoke Scottish Gaelic and/or the Scots language (there were also English speakers in both countries). During the 1600s, over 200,000 Lowland Scots, largely speaking the Scots Language, migrate to Northern Ireland (the Plantation of Ulster). In Ulster these people spelled whiskey with an “e”. In the 1700’s several hundred thousand Ulster Scots migrate to North America bringing the “whiskey” spelling with them. At the birth of the United States, 1 in 7 citizens were descendants of Ulster Scots; whiskey with an ‘e” was (and remains) the common spelling in the United States (or as it was then known “the united States”). In 1830, refinement of the column-still created inexpensive but less flavorful whisky; distillers in Scotland blended the inexpensive whiskies to taste like the best-selling Irish Pot Whisky. Irish distillers decried this bastardization and adapted the Irish “Whiskey” spelling (with an “e”) to separate their product from the less expensive Scotch Whisky. All of which brings us to the odd idea that the Irish use a Scots language influence spelling of “whisky”– while the English, and most of the English speaking world, use the Celt influenced spelling “whiskey”.  Ow, this hurts!   

Feature Photo (top of page)

Two Men Posing With a Whiskey Still. Unknown. [Between 1920 and 1930] Photograph.

light house against the evening sky