Is using the bracketed ‘e’ to write whisk(e)y a work around, or is it a cop-out? What is the correct spelling for our favourite drink?
Back in the early days no one cared. Illiteracy was high and it didn’t really matter if the spelling on the label was with or without an ‘e’ in there. Some say that when the Irish word ‘usice’ was anglicized it carried an ‘e’ while the Scots Gaelic ‘uisge’ translation didn’t. Both were pronounced “oosh-kay”, so it’s more likely that it was random, as Irish and Scots Gaelic were both originally spoken languages only.
In time, however, branding started a general trend towards the Irish whiskeys adopting the ‘e’ as a differentiator from Scotch, which stuck with ‘whisky’. Depending on your perspective you could consider things were a little more competitive back then between Scotch and Irish, especially in export markets.
Nowadays however there’s a very broad-brush guide that the ‘e’ is present if it’s likely derived form Irish whisky and the lack of an ‘e’ would suggest it’s derived from Scotch. But of course these things often come with exceptions, such as Maker’s Mark and Dickel: American brands choosing to delete or ignore the ‘e’, perhaps due to Scots ancestry. It may also be that they chose to follow the letter of the law – literally. In 1968 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms decided the correct spelling to be “whisky”, but later allowed distilleries to choose either spelling based on tradition.
The plurals are also different. Whisky becomes ‘whiskies’ and whiskey becomes ‘whiskeys’. As the Dummies we try to remember to give each brand their correct spelling. When we are referring to the spirit in a general sense we’re likely to choose either spelling or use the bracketed ‘e’ to make a point that the topic is inclusive of both; but please don’t judge us for errors – we love it all!
In closing, if you’re the type to have a fight in a bar over whisk(e)y, this is as good a reason as any.