We have your guide to American Whiskey vs. Whisky.
To explain what makes Tennessee whiskey its own distinct category, we should first give a definition for whiskey as a whole.
What is whiskey?
Whiskey is a distilled spirit made from fermented grain mash that is produced at less than 190 proof, stored in oak containers and bottled at at least 80 proof.
There is no requirement for which grain, or how much, you use to be called whiskey. It can be barley, corn, rye, wheat or any other grain. Coloring and flavors can also be added.
The official classifications for bourbon, scotch, Irish whiskey and beyond all elaborate on these requirements.
What is Tennessee whiskey?
This leads us to our original question about what makes Tennessee whiskey different from other American whiskeys and bourbon. Tennessee whiskeys are held to the same legal definition as bourbon. But, they take it one step further with a filtering process through maple charcoal. This is known as the “Lincoln County Process.”
Otherwise, Tennessee whiskey must be:
- Made in Tennessee.
- At least 51% corn.
- Distilled at no higher than 160 proof.
- Barreled at no higher than 125 proof.
- Put into a new, charred oak barrel.
The charcoal mellowing process is what makes Tennessee whiskey (like Jack Daniel’s) not a bourbon. All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. Bourbon can be made in Tennessee if it follows all the legal specifications.
Why is it sometimes spelled whiskey vs. whisky?
Both ways of spelling whiskey can be correct. As a general rule, ‘whiskey’ is common in Ireland and in the United States. American distillers who use techniques more similar to Irish whiskey may use this spelling. Spelling ‘whisky’ without the ‘e’ is more common in Scotland, Japan, Canada and other parts of the world.
A clever trick to remember these two spellings is that the words “Ireland’ and “America” include the letter “e” and so do their whiskeys (most of the time). Words “Scotland,” “Japan,” and “Canada” do not have an “e” and often spell whisky without the “e.” Exceptions to the rule include George Dickel, Maker’s Mark and Old Forester which are classified as American whiskys as an homage to their Scottish heritage.
About the Author – Rachel Goldenberg
Rachel Goldenberg has been Director of Marketing at Mint Julep since 2017. Her extensive bourbon education includes becoming an Executive Bourbon Steward through the Stave & Thief Society and graduating from Woodford Reserve’s Bourbon Academy. She is a Certified Tourism Ambassador and enthusiastic advocate for her adopted hometown of Louisville. When she’s not promoting Mint Julep’s portfolio of southern experiences, she can be found walking her dog or enjoying a drink on a Germantown patio.