When it comes to whiskey, arguably the most important question is how to spell it. Will you, or will you not, be able to pass for a connoisseur if you put an e in it? Or would that invite eternal shame and ridicule?
As with any other field which attracts connoisseurs, you're treading dangerous ground, for whichever way a connoisseur's persuasion lies, it is clearly the only sensible one, and heretics who entertain blasphemous fancies will be damned to hell.
But this particular mystery is easily solved. Whiskey is merely the Irish spelling of the word, whereas whisky is the Scotch spelling. Either country claims to have invented whiskey first, but neither can prove it beyond all doubt – meaning you can spell it whichever way you like while they're sorting that out. Some say you should alter the spelling depending on the origin of the spirit you are referring to, but they are insufferable pedants and you should pay them no mind. We'll be sticking with the e throughout the article, purely for the reason of things being much fancier with e's in them.
The word whiskey comes from the old Gaelic uisce or uisge, which means water. In order to inspect its origins, we must begin with the art of distillation. It is tricky to pinpoint distillation to a particular place or time. Some sources claim it was discovered as far back as ancient Mesopotamia; some blame the ancient Greeks; some, medieval Arabs. All we know for certain is that some time around the 15th century, the art of medicinal distillation had seeped its way into Ireland and Scotland, very likely via itinerant Christian monks. Soon, it transcended its monastic setting to become a must-have with the practicing physicians of the time, who believed it could aid in relieving numerous ailments, such as depression and mood disorders. Those medieval doctors sure knew their craft!
Whiskey became more accessible to the general public when King Henry VIII dissolved monasteries in the 16th century. Left to their own devices, monks had found distillation a nifty way of making a living.
Around the 17th century, many Irish and Scottish immigrants moved to America, bringing the art of distillation with them to the New World. The rest is, as they say, history. Now we can enjoy it on the rocks, possibly with a dash of coke - although don't let a connoisseur catch you doing that!
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