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Whiskey vs. Whisky


Odyssey Spirits

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I was visiting a fellow Washingtonian's distillery website today and noticed that they produce "Whisky" which caught me by surprise because I was under the impression that whisky was traditionally reserved for the Scots and that what we produce here in the US is referred to as "whiskey".

I'm curious to hear what craft distillers here think of this. Has such terminology become merely a question of marketing semantics, or does any form of traditional reverence still apply?

For reference purposes, here's a good blog primer on the subject I found: Whiskey vs Whisky blog post

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The EU governs in matters pertaining to the sale of "whiskey" and "whisky" in European Union member countries. Their rules for what can be called "whiskey" or "whisky" apply to both forms and also, you'll be interested to know, specifically include American Bourbon and American Rye in that definition, with the stipulation that to be sold in the EU as either "whisky" or "whiskey" (and including American spirits) the spirit must be aged in oak for minimum three (3) years. It is a redefinition of American Bourbon and Rye Whiskeys. The US recognizes both spellings as well. There is no legal requirement for either spelling that I'm aware.

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The EU governs in matters pertaining to the sale of "whiskey" and "whisky" in European Union member countries. Their rules for what can be called "whiskey" or "whisky" apply to both forms and also, you'll be interested to know, specifically include American Bourbon and American Rye in that definition, with the stipulation that to be sold in the EU as either "whisky" or "whiskey" (and including American spirits) the spirit must be aged in oak for minimum three (3) years. It is a redefinition of American Bourbon and Rye Whiskeys. The US recognizes both spellings as well. There is no legal requirement for either spelling that I'm aware.

Thanks Ralph ~ as a highly respected whiskey producer I appreciate your willingness to take time to share your knowledge.

Piggybacking off your post, what requirements/stipulations/limitations are there here in the US, if any, regarding the production of whiskey, bourbon, & single malt in terms of labeling & classification? (i.e. American Bourbon, Rye Whiskey, etc.)

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"Whiskey" and "whisky" are just alternative spellings of the same word, exactly like "color" and "colour," and about a million other examples. There really is no more to it than that, but a lot of people mistakenly believe otherwise. You would not believe the things some people believe.

Although the regulations are silent about how to spell whiskey, the United States has a rather extensive body of regulations known as the Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits, which are administered by the Treasury Department's Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). This is important to anyone who wants to be a spirits producer because all labels have to be approved by TTB and they are sticklers about the correct terminology.

Don't be put off by the regs. They're not really that hard to read and understand.

A copy is attached.

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"Whiskey" and "whisky" are just alternative spellings of the same word, exactly like "color" and "colour," and about a million other examples. There really is no more to it than that, but a lot of people mistakenly believe otherwise. You would not believe the things some people believe.

Although the regulations are silent about how to spell whiskey, the United States has a rather extensive body of regulations known as the Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits, which are administered by the Treasury Department's Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). This is important to anyone who wants to be a spirits producer because all labels have to be approved by TTB and they are sticklers about the correct terminology.

Don't be put off by the regs. They're not really that hard to read and understand.

A copy is attached.

Thanks for the link. Rather than read 42 pages of this (which I will eventually), are there any TTB rules regarding the question of labeling Whiskey vs. Whisky here in the US?

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Thanks for the link. Rather than read 42 pages of this (which I will eventually), are there any TTB rules regarding the question of labeling Whiskey vs. Whisky here in the US?

No there are not. Most of the references to whisky in the CFRs use the word as it was spelt originally in British English usage (whisky). The link that you provided mentions this. What is your preference? As Mr Cowdery points out, the word is the same, but with two variants. By the way, is it Jeffry, or Jeffery? Jeffry/Jeffery came from Geoffery, as whisky/whiskey came from uisce!

Just another wordsmith in our midst, but happy to be one!

All the best,

Rusty

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It's actually "JEFFREY" (with my last name what it is and considering I was born in England [uS/RAF] my mother wanted "Geoffery" & Dad said no way :blink: ). People still misspell may name constantly (both first & last names).

Personally I like whiskey to describe American Rye etc., then again if we produce a single malt it would probably help from a marketing standpoint to call it a 'whisky'.

No there are not. Most of the references to whisky in the CFRs use the word as it was spelt originally in British English usage (whisky). The link that you provided mentions this. What is your preference? As Mr Cowdery points out, the word is the same, but with two variants. By the way, is it Jeffry, or Jeffery? Jeffry/Jeffery came from Geoffery, as whisky/whiskey came from uisce!

Just another wordsmith in our midst, but happy to be one!

All the best,

Rusty

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Guest sensei

Dickel is an example of a whisky from Tennessee where Geroge beleived his product was as smooth as any Scotch. By contrast, Jack Daniel's is a whiskey.

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There is no regulation that governs the use of whisky v. whiskey, i.e., differentiaiting the spellings, in any jurisdiction (state, US, UK, EU, WTO, etc.)

Any significance attributed to one spelling over the other is fanciful. It is one word, with one meaning, but two different spellings.

Much like my own surname, which is usually (but not always) spelled Cowdery in the USA, and usually (but not always) spelled Cowdrey in the UK, to the point that I have had to browbeat my editors at WHISKY Magazine (which is published there) to spell it correctly.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Guest Liberty Bar - Seattle
Piggybacking off your post, what requirements/stipulations/limitations are there here in the US, if any, regarding the production of whiskey, bourbon, & single malt in terms of labeling & classification? (i.e. American Bourbon, Rye Whiskey, etc.)

Yo, Mr. Odyssey Spirits.

Being late to this party, I would bet the forty-six dollars in my pocket that someone has already answered this question, but since I have already hit the 'reply' button, I will do my best.

Turns out that Bourbon in particular is a rather special spirit. So special in fact that in 1946, our congress thought so much of this specific American whiskey to declare bourbon "America's native spirit", and the "distinctive product of the United States", a distinction - similar to cognac or champagne - that is specifically self-identifying. This means that as long as there's a corn mash that is comprised of at least 51% corn, aged at least two years in charred, first-use American White Oak barrels, bottled at no more than 80proof - that's Bourbon. Make the same exact thing in Canada? It's whiskey. In the highest Highland or the lowest Lowland or the most peaty Islay of Scotland - it's whisky.

The story that I tell is that some 100 and a few years ago, the Very Reverend Elijah Craig was moving some moonshine around, but he needed a barrel to do so - but the only barrel that he had around was a stinky sardine or some such barrel, so he charred the inside of the barrel to get rid of the fish smell. After sloshing this whiskey around inside this barrel for some period of time, he finally took a taste and noticed that the color was now a pleasant brown and the taste sweeter and more cultured. Viola! Bourbon! This may just be a tall tale, but I do like to perpetuate this myth as often as possible while at the same time pouring a nice little taste of what is still one of my favorite bourbons, Elijah Craig 12yr (far superior to the 18, it turns out).

Point being - that's legally bourbon in terms of "labeling & classification". Rye also has similar classifications - but that's a whole different story. "Single Malt" simply means a single malt in the mash made at a singular distillery, I do believe, and no country has any rights to that phraseology. For instance, St. George Spirits out of California has a tasty single malt barley whiskey in the Scottish tradition.

I hope my long tretis answered your next question, "are there any TTB rules regarding the question of labeling Whiskey vs. Whisky here in the US?" Customarily, I'd not suggest that you call any whiskey that you make 'whisky' unless you want to hear about it by the Scots for the foreseeable future. Maker's Mark gets away with it due to some Scottish heritage.

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TTB uses the spelling Whisky or the plural Whiskies. Here is a link to Chapter Four- Class andTtype Designation http://www.ttb.gov/spirits/chapter4.pdf

The Scotch Whisky Association says: "Most well-known dictionaries give both spellings. The Oxford English Dictionary points out that 'in modern trade usage, Scotch Whisky and Irish Whiskey are thus distinguished in spelling'. American-made whiskey is usually spelt with an 'e', while Canadian and Japanese whisky are not." (Usually, but not always. There are several Whisky's in the US.)

Turns out that Bourbon in particular is a rather special spirit. So special in fact that in 1946, our congress thought so much of this specific American whiskey to declare bourbon "America's native spirit", and the "distinctive product of the United States", a distinction - similar to cognac or champagne - that is specifically self-identifying.

Champagne and Cognac are D.O.C.'s, Bourbon is a definition/statement of identity; neither is "self-identifying."

This means that as long as there's a corn mash that is comprised of at least 51% corn, aged at least two years in charred, first-use American White Oak barrels, bottled at no more than 80proof - that's Bourbon.

You incorrectly attempt to describe Bourbon. American Oak barrels are not required. Neither is two years aging. Bottled at no more than 80 proof is totally incorrect.

The TTB definition for Bourbon is:

Whisky produced in the U.S. at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn and stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers

The definition of Straight Bourbon is:

· Bourbon whisky stored in charred new oak containers for 2 years or more

· “Straight Bourbon Whisky” may include mixtures of two or more straight bourbon whiskies provided all of the whiskies are produced in the same state

The story that I tell is that some 100 and a few years ago, the Very Reverend Elijah Craig was moving some moonshine around, but he needed a barrel to do so - but the only barrel that he had around was a stinky sardine or some such barrel, so he charred the inside of the barrel to get rid of the fish smell. After sloshing this whiskey around inside this barrel for some period of time, he finally took a taste and noticed that the color was now a pleasant brown and the taste sweeter and more cultured. Viola! Bourbon! This may just be a tall tale, but I do like to perpetuate this myth as often as possible while at the same time pouring a nice little taste of what is still one of my favorite bourbons, Elijah Craig 12yr (far superior to the 18, it turns out).

You do a great disservice telling tales instead of truth. Mis-educating the public will not help the artisanal/micro-distilling cause.

"Single Malt" simply means a single malt in the mash made at a singular distillery, I do believe, and no country has any rights to that phraseology.

Single Malt is a Scottish definition and is very different than the US definitions for malt whiskey.

The Scotch Whiskey Association says:

According to traditional practice, there are five categories of Scotch Whisky:

(a) Single Malt Scotch Whisky: A Scotch Whisky distilled at a single distillery,

1. from water and malted barley without the addition of any other cereals, and

2. by batch distillation in pot stills.

The industry is also seeking legislation that would require Single Malt Scotch Whisky to only be bottled in Scotland. (But it hasn't been passed yet.)

(B) Single Grain Scotch Whisky: A Scotch Whisky distilled at a single distillery

1. from water and malted barley with or without whole grains of other malted or unmalted cereals, and

2. which does not comply with the definition of Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

© Blended Scotch Whisky: a blend of one or more Single Malt Scotch Whiskies with one or more Single Grain Scotch Whiskies.

(d) Blended Malt Scotch Whisky: a blend of Single Malt Scotch Whiskies, which have been distilled at more than one distillery.

(e) Blended Grain Scotch Whisky: a blend of Single Grain Scotch Whiskies, which have been distilled at more than one distillery.

TTB definition of US, malt whisky:

Whisky produced at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent malted barley and stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers

US, straight malt whisky:

· Malt whisky stored in charred new oak containers for 2 years or more

· “Straight Malt Whisky” may include mixtures of two or more straight malt whiskies provided all of the whiskies are produced in the same state

Customarily, I'd not suggest that you call any whiskey that you make 'whisky' unless you want to hear about it by the Scots for the foreseeable future.

You're joking right? There are several whisky's made and so labeled in the US, Japan, etc., with no problems.

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