AskDefine | Define whiskey

The Collaborative Dictionary

Whiskey \Whis"key\, Whisky \Whis"ky\, n.; pl. Whiskeysor Whiskies. [See Whisk, v. t. & n.] A light carriage built for rapid motion; -- called also tim-whiskey. [1913 Webster] Whiskey Ring
Whiskey \Whis"key\, n. Same as Whisky, a liquor. [1913 Webster] Whiskey
Whisky \Whis"ky\, Whiskey \Whis"key\, n. [Ir. or Gael. uisge water (perhaps akin to E. wash, water) in uisgebeatha whiskey, properly, water of life. Cf. Usquebaugh.] An intoxicating liquor distilled from grain, potatoes, etc., especially in Scotland, Ireland, and the United States. In the United States, whisky is generally distilled from maize, rye, or wheat, but in Scotland and Ireland it is often made from malted barley. [1913 Webster] Bourbon whisky, corn whisky made in Bourbon County, Kentucky. Crooked whisky. See under Crooked. Whisky Jack (Zool.), the Canada jay (Perisoreus Canadensis). It is noted for its fearless and familiar habits when it frequents the camps of lumbermen in the winter season. Its color is dull grayish blue, lighter beneath. Called also moose bird. [1913 Webster] Whiskyfied

Word Net

whiskey n : a liquor made from fermented mash of grain [syn: whisky]

Moby Thesaurus

Angostura bitters, Canadian, Canadian whiskey, Cognac, Grand Champagne, Irish, Irish whiskey, Kirsch, Scotch, Scotch whiskey, absinthe, bitters, blended whiskey, bourbon, brandy, clean rum, eau de vie, gin, grog, light whiskey, malt whiskey, marc, mescal, moonshine, ouzo, plum brandy, raki, rum, rye, rye whiskey, schnapps, slivovitz, spirits, tequila, vodka


Alternative spellings


  • /ˈwɪski/
  • Rhymes with: -ɪski


  1. A distilled alcoholic liquor made from fermented grain, usually aged by storing in oak barrels.
  2. A drink of whiskey.
  3. The letter W in the ICAO spelling alphabet.

Usage notes

The regional spellings |whiskey and whisky are also used world-wide to distinguish regional whiskies, for example bourbon whiskey, but Scotch whisky.


alcoholic drink
  • Afrikaans: whisky
  • Albanian: uiski
  • Arabic: (wíski)
  • Bosnian: viski
  • Chinese: 威士忌酒 (wēishìjì-jiǔ)
  • Czech: whisky
  • Danish: whisky
  • Dutch: whisky
  • Estonian: viski
  • Finnish: viski
  • French: whiskey
  • German: Whisky
  • Greek: ουίσκι
  • Hebrew: וויסקי (viski)
  • Hungarian: whisky
  • Icelandic: viskí
  • Irish: fuisce, uisce beatha
  • Italian: whisky
  • Japanese: ウィスキー
  • Korean: 위스키 (wiseuki)
  • Norwegian: whisky
  • Portuguese: uísque
  • Russian: виски
  • Scottish Gaelic: uisge beatha
  • Serbian:
    Cyrillic: виски
    Roman: viski
  • Slovak: whisky
  • Spanish: whisky
  • Swahili: wiski
  • Swedish: whisky
  • Tagalog: wíski
  • Turkish: viski
  • Ukrainian: віскі, горілка
  • Vietnamese: huých-ki
  • Welsh: chwisgi



  1. whisky (alcoholic drink)
Whisky (), or whiskey (lang-ga uisce beatha or fuisce), refers to a broad category of alcoholic beverages that are distilled from fermented grain mash and aged in wooden casks (generally oak).
Different grains are used for different varieties, including: barley, malted barley, rye, malted rye, wheat, and maize (corn). Whisky derives from the Gaelic word for "water" (uisce or uisge), and is called in full uisge-beatha (in Scotland) or uisce beatha (Ireland), meaning "Water of Life". It is related to the Latin aqua vitae, also meaning "water of life". It is always Scotch whisky, and Irish whiskey.
The first written record of whisky comes from 1405 in Ireland, where it was distilled by monks. However it is thought that whisky had already been around for at least several hundred years prior. When or where whisky was first distilled is unknown and the local, undocumented beverage production during the period makes identification of the drink's origin difficult. Additionally, it is possible that different groups discovered processes of distillation completely independently of one another.
Some scholars believe distilled spirits were first produced between the 8th century AD and 9th century AD in the Middle East with the art of distillation being brought to Ireland and Britain by Christian monks. It is a popular legend that St. Patrick introduced distillation to Ireland and Scotland, but he lived too early for that to be possible. It is, however, possible that the distillation process was discovered in Ireland and possibly Britain (either independently or in precursor to Arabian distillation) by farmers as a way of making use of excess grain after harvest.

Types of whisky

Whisky or whisky-like products are produced in most grain-growing areas. They differ in base product, alcoholic content, and quality.
  • Malt is whisky made entirely from malted barley and distilled in an onion-shaped pot still.
  • Grain is made from malted and unmalted barley along with other grains, usually in a continuous "patent" or "Coffey" still. Until recently it was only used in blends, but there are now some "Single Grain" scotches being marketed.
Malts and Grains are combined in various ways
  • Vatted malt is blended from malt whiskies from different distilleries. If a whisky is labelled "pure malt" or just "malt" it is almost certain to be a vatted whisky. This is also sometimes labelled as "Blended Malt" whisky.
  • Single malt whisky is malt whisky from a single distillery. However, unless the whisky is described as "single-cask" it will contain whisky from many casks, and different years, so the blender can achieve a taste recognisable as typical of the distillery. In most cases, the name of a single malt will be that of the distillery (The Glenlivet, Bushmills, Yoichi), with an age statement and perhaps some indication of some special treatments such as maturation in a port wine cask.
  • Pure pot still whiskey refers to a whiskey distilled in a pot-still (like single malt) from a mash of mixed malted and unmalted barley. It is exclusive to Ireland.
  • Blended whiskies are normally cheaper whiskies made from a mixture of Malt and Grain whiskies. A whisky simply described as Scotch Whisky or Irish Whiskey is most likely to be a blend in this sense. A blend is usually from many distilleries so that the blender can produce a flavour consistent with the brand, and the brand name (e.g. Chivas Regal, Jameson Irish Whiskey, Canadian Club) will usually not therefore contain the name of a distillery. However, "Blend" can (less frequently) have other meanings. A mixture of malts (with no grain) from different distilleries (more usually called a vatted malt) may sometimes be referred to as a "Blended Malt", and a mixtures of grain whiskies with no malts will sometimes carry the designation "Blended Grain".
  • Cask strength whiskies are rare and usually only the very best whiskies are bottled in this way. They are bottled from the cask undiluted. Rather than diluting, the distiller is inviting the drinker to dilute to the level of potency most palatable.
Whiskies do not mature in the bottle, only in the cask, so the "age" of a whisky is the time between distillation and bottling. This reflects how much the cask has interacted with the whisky, changing its chemical makeup and taste. Whiskies which have been in bottle for many years may have a rarity value, but are not "older" and will not necessarily be "better" than a more recently made whisky matured in wood for a similar time. Most whiskies are sold at or near an alcoholic strength of 40% abv.

Scotch whiskies

Scotch whiskies are generally distilled twice, though some are distilled a third time. International laws require anything bearing the label "Scotch" to be distilled in Scotland and matured for a minimum of three years in oak casks, among other, more specific criteria. If Scotch whisky is from more than one cask, and if it includes an age statement on the bottle, it must reflect the age of the youngest whisky in the blend. Many cask-strength single malts omit the age as they use younger elements in minute amounts for flavouring and mellowing. The basic types of Scotch are Malt and Grain, which are combined to create blends. While the market is dominated by blends, the most highly prized of Scotch whiskies are the single malts.

Irish whiskeys

Most Irish whiskeys are distilled three times. Though traditionally distilled using the pot still method, column stills are used for the grain whiskey used in Irish blends. By law, Irish whiskey must be aged in wooden casks for a period of not less than three years, although in practice it is usually three or four times that period. Unpeated malt is almost always used, the main exception being Connemara Peated Malt whiskey.
There are several types of whiskey common to Ireland: Single Malt, Single Grain, Blended Whiskey and uniquely to Ireland, pure pot still whiskey. The designation "pure pot still" as used in Ireland generally refers to whiskey made of 100% barley, mixed malted and unmalted, and distilled in a pot still made of copper. The "green" unmalted barley gives the traditional pure pot still whiskey a spicy, uniquely Irish quality. Like single malt, pure pot still is sold as such or blended with grain whiskey. Usually no real distinction is made between whether a blended whiskey was made from single malt or pure pot still.

Japanese whiskies

The model for Japanese whiskies is the single malt Scotch, although there are examples of Japanese blended whiskies. The base is a mash of malted barley, dried in kilns fired with a little peat (although considerably less than is the case in Scotland), and distilled using the pot still method. For some time it was believed by many that whisky made in the Scotch style, but not produced in Scotland, could not possibly measure up to the standards of the traditional Scotch distilleries. Because of this, until fairly recently, the market for Japanese whiskies was almost entirely domestic.
However, in recent years, a number of blind tastings have been organized by Whisky Magazine, which have included Japanese single malts in the lineup, along with malts from distilleries considered to be among the best in Scotland. On more than one occasion, the results have had Japanese single malts (particularly those of Yoichi and Yamazaki) scoring higher than their Scotch counterparts.

Canadian whiskies

Canadian whiskies are usually lighter and smoother than other whiskey styles. Another common characteristic of many Canadian whiskies is their use of rye that has been malted, which provides a fuller flavour and smoothness. By Canadian law, Canadian whiskies must be produced in Canada, be distilled from a fermented mash of cereal grain, be aged in small wooden barrels for no less than 3 years, and possess the aroma, taste and character generally attributed to Canadian whisky. The terms "Canadian Whisky", "Canadian Rye Whisky" and "Rye Whisky" are legally indistinguishable in Canada and do not denote any particular proportion of rye or other grain used in production.

American whiskeys

American whiskeys must be distilled from a fermented mash of grain and possess the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to whisky. The most common of the "named types" listed in the federal regulationsare:
The "named types" of American whiskey must be distilled to not more than 80 percent alcohol by volume. "Named types" must then be aged in charred new oak containers, excepting corn whiskey. Corn whiskey does not have to be aged but, if it is aged, it must be in new un-charred oak barrels or used barrels. The aging for corn whiskey usually is brief, e.g. six months.
If the aging for a "named type" reaches 2 years or beyond, the whiskey is then additionally designated "straight" e.g. "straight rye whiskey". "Straight whiskey" (without naming a grain) is a whiskey which has been aged in charred new oak containers for 2 years or more and distilled at not more than 80 percent alcohol by volume but is derived from less than 51% of any one grain.
American blended whiskeys combine straight whiskey with un-aged whiskey, grain neutral spirits, flavorings and colorings.
Not defined by the law but important in the marketplace is Tennessee whiskey, of which Jack Daniel's is the leading example. During distillation, it is identical to bourbon in almost every important respect. The most recognizable difference is that Tennessee whiskey is filtered through sugar maple charcoal, giving it a unique flavor and aroma.

Welsh whiskies

In 2000, Penderyn Distillery started production of the Penderyn single malt Welsh whisky in Wales. The first bottles went on sale on 1 March 2004, Saint David's Day. It is now sold throughout the world.

Indian whiskies

Indian whisky is an alcoholic beverage that is labelled as "whisky" in India. Much Indian whisky is distilled from fermented molasses, and as such would be considered a sort of rum outside of the Indian subcontinent. 90% of the "whisky" consumed in India is molasses based, although India has begun to distill whisky from malt and other grains.

Other whiskies

In both the Bretagne/France (Armorik) and in Germany (Slyrs), whiskies are distilled using techniques similar to those in Scotland. Manx Spirit from the Isle of Man is, like some Virginia whiskeys in the USA, actually distilled elsewhere and re-distilled in the country of its nominal "origin". In England, a new distillery (St. George's Distillery) became operational in late 2006; the product will come onto the market in due time, based on ageing and marketing considerations.
Recently at least two distilleries in the traditionally brandy-producing Caucasus region announced their plans to enter the Russian domestic market with whiskies. The Stavropol-based Praskoveysky distillery bases its product on Irish technology, while in Kizlyar, Dagestan's "Russian Whisky" announced a Scotch-inspired drink in single malt, blended and wheat varieties.

Names and spellings

The word "whiskey" is believed to have been coined by soldiers of King Henry II who invaded Ireland in the 12th century as they struggled to pronounce the native Irish words uisce beatha () meaning "water of life". Over time, the pronunciation changed from "Whishkeyba" to "Whisky". The name itself is a gaelic translation of the Latin phrase aqua vitae, meaning "Water of Life". Today, the spelling whisky (plural whiskies) is generally used for whiskies distilled in Scotland, Wales, Canada, and Japan, while whiskey is used for the spirits distilled in Ireland and America. Even though a 1968 directive of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms specifies "whisky" as the official U.S. spelling, it allows labeling as "whiskey" in deference to tradition and most U.S. producers still use the historical spelling. Exceptions such as Early Times, Maker's Mark, and George Dickel are usually indicative of a Scottish heritage.
In the late Victorian era, Irish whiskey was the world's whisk(e)y of choice. Of the Irish whiskeys, Dublin whiskeys were regarded as the grands crus of whiskeys. In order to differentiate Dublin whiskey from other whiskies, the Dublin distilleries adopted the spelling "whiskey". The other Irish distilleries eventually followed suit. The last Irish "whisky" was Paddy, which adopted the "e" in 1966.
In some countries, the abbreviated term "Scotch" is often used for "Scotch whisky".
In many Latin-American countries, "whiskey" (wee-skee) is used as a photographer's cue to smile, supplanting English "cheese".


Whiskies and other distilled beverages such as cognac and rum are complex beverages containing a vast range of flavouring compounds, of which some 200 to 300 can be easily detected by chemical analysis. The flavouring chemicals include "carbonyl compounds, alcohols, carboxylic acids and their esters, nitrogen- and sulphur-containing compounds, tannins and other polyphenolic compounds, terpenes, and oxygen-containing heterocyclic compounds" and esters of fatty acids. The nitrogen compounds include pyridines, picolines and pyrazines.

Flavours from distillation

The flavouring of whisky is partially determined by the presence of congeners and fusel oils. Fusel oils are higher alcohols than ethanol, are mildly toxic, and have a strong, disagreeable smell and taste. An excess of fusel oils in whisky is considered a defect. A variety of methods are employed in the distillation process to remove unwanted fusel oils. Traditionally, American distillers focussed on secondary filtration using charcoal, gravel, sand, or linen to subtract undesired distillates. Canadian distillers have traditionally employed column stills which can be controlled to produce an almost pure (and less flavourful) ethanol known as neutral grain spirit or grain neutral spirit (GNS). Flavour is restored by blending the neutral grain spirits with flavouring whiskies.
Acetals are rapidly formed in distillates and a great many are found in distilled beverages, the most prominent being acetaldehyde diethyl acetal (1,1-diethoxyethane). Among whiskies the highest levels are associated with malt whisky. This acetal is a principal flavour compound in sherry, and contributes fruitiness to the aroma.
The diketone diacetyl (2,3-Butanedione) has a buttery aroma and is present in almost all distilled beverages. Whiskies and cognacs typically contain more than vodkas, but significantly less than rums or brandies.

Flavours from oak

Whisky lactone (3-methyl-4-octanolide) is found in all types of oak. This lactone has a strong coconut aroma. Whisky lactone is also known as quercus lactone.
Commercially charred oaks are rich in phenolic compounds. One study discriminated 40 different phenolic compounds. The coumarin scopoletin is present in whisky, with the highest level reported in Bourbon whiskey.

Health effects

The health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption (better health and longevity) commonly associated with wine appear to apply also to whisky. Many researchers now suspect that the beneficial substance is the alcohol itself — although research has not ruled out other components in the beverages as also being responsible for beneficial effects. However, excessive consumption of alcohol can harm many of the body's essential organs, particularly the liver. Furthermore, frequent consumption of strong spirits, such as whisky, significantly increases a person's chance of developing head and neck cancers.
People once thought that whisky made from barley/malt contained gluten and should be avoided on a gluten-free diet, along with beers, lagers, ales and stouts. It is now known that the distillation process removes all traces of gluten and is safe to consume on a gluten-free diet.

See also


External links

whiskey in Afrikaans: Whiskey
whiskey in Arabic: ويسكي
whiskey in Azerbaijani: Viski
whiskey in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Ўіскі
whiskey in Bulgarian: Уиски
whiskey in Catalan: Whisky
whiskey in Czech: Whisky
whiskey in Danish: Whisky
whiskey in German: Whisky
whiskey in Modern Greek (1453-): Ουίσκι
whiskey in Spanish: Whisky
whiskey in Esperanto: Viskio
whiskey in Persian: ویسکی
whiskey in French: Whisky
whiskey in Irish: Uisce beatha
whiskey in Scottish Gaelic: Uisge-beatha
whiskey in Galician: Whisky
whiskey in Korean: 위스키
whiskey in Croatian: Viski
whiskey in Ido: Wiskio
whiskey in Indonesian: Wiski
whiskey in Italian: Whisky
whiskey in Hebrew: ויסקי
whiskey in Georgian: შოტლანდიური ვისკი
whiskey in Latin: Vischium
whiskey in Lithuanian: Viskis
whiskey in Limburgan: Whisky
whiskey in Dutch: Whisky
whiskey in Japanese: ウイスキー
whiskey in Norwegian: Whisky
whiskey in Polish: Whisky
whiskey in Portuguese: Uísque
whiskey in Romanian: Whisky
whiskey in Russian: Виски
whiskey in Scots: Whisky
whiskey in Slovenian: Viski
whiskey in Serbian: Виски
whiskey in Finnish: Viski
whiskey in Swedish: Whisky
whiskey in Thai: วิสกี้
whiskey in Vietnamese: Whisky
whiskey in Turkish: Viski
whiskey in Ukrainian: Віскі
whiskey in Chinese: 威士忌
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