Whiskey, Whisky or Bourbon?
The Irish know how to do it, the Scots know how to sell it, the Americans know how to drink it. This is one of the most famous adages about whiskey.
Famous because it naturally provokes “partisan” reactions in those who read it, and famous because it names the three populations that gave the most to one of the most famous and popular “spirits” in the world.
Let’s start with the name… Yes, because the word “whisk(e)y” is the abbreviation of the expression uisce beatha, just water of life, aqua vitae, in Gaelic.
The name of medieval origin is therefore common both to the grapefruit, grain, and potato acquavite (also the word “vodka” has, in fact, the same origin) or of the noblest cereal malt.
Irish and Scots are therefore competing for the origin of both the product and the name since the Scottish and Irish are two dialects of Gaelic. Even today that “e”, present in the Irish spelling and absent in the Scottish one, acts as a watershed between two completely different ways of understanding whiskey.
Thus, Irish whiskey is distilled three times and its malt is mixed grains, while Scotch whisky is distilled twice and its malt is barley. The hand of the Americans … With the discovery of America and the advent, in the territories that will later become the core of the current United States and part of Canada, of English domination, whiskey also moves to the Americas.
And if the philosophy of Canadian whiskey is more similar to that of the Irish rather than that of the Scottish, in the county of Bourbon, Kentucky, the “real” American whiskey, the Bourbon, is born and characterized by the use of corn and rye malt. During this time between the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Americans also became arbitrators, more or less voluntarily, of the dispute between the Scottish and the Irish for the control of the global market of spirits. Prohibitionism (1919-1933) and Irish independence from England (1922), caused the ostracism against the Irish whiskey and the Irish lost the primacy of sale in favor of the Scotch whisky, entering a period of crisis from which it began to recover only from the Sixties, with many distilleries closed and the transfer of ownership to multinational industries.
And what have the Japanese got to do with it? The trade gap between Whiskey, Bourbon, and Whisky has been relatively stable. In fact, they are three products and three philosophies of taste and tasting; very different from each other. One thing is certain: with or without the “e”, with or without corn, whiskey has become part of the “pop” culture in books and films, as well as having historical events put a hand on it.
So it is possible today to taste “Scottish” whiskys produced in Japan or an Indian whiskey that, due to the heat of Bangalore, suffers from “premature aging”.
From the first experiments of Scottish or Irish monks, Whiskey, Bourbon and Whisky have in their aroma still a lot to tell.