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So often, a man’s first wee sip of a single malt is less a cherished rite of passage than a baptism of firewater. Whether it’s a rocket-fuel raid on dad’s liquor cabinet, an unforgiveable night of good whisky and Coke, or a gulping mouthful spluttered down to impress a date, we all have a war story about the Scotch uprising. But at some point, we realise the old enemy has become a lifelong friend.

Stuart Reeves, of Sydney’s Club Bar in the Park Hyatt Hotel, had a rough introduction to singles. “My dad filled up a glass for me, saying it was apple juice. I drank it in one gulp,” he says. “Took me a while to come back to whisky after that.” But as manager of a dedicated Scotch and Cognac bar with over 30 malts, he’s back in a big way — and is finding a new generation keen to run the singles gauntlet.

Barry Chalmers, of The Bowery, Brisbane, had whisky “rubbed into his gums” at age two and hasn’t lost the taste for it. He’s also seen the new drinkers, and a new trend: “We’re not seeing guys smashing singles on Fridays, but luxuriating with wee drinks on weeknights.”

And it’s a similar story at your grog shop. Lawrie Binion, of Vintage Cellars, says there’s booming interest from 30-something men — and women. “While malt whisky is easy to drink, it tastes much better in company,” he jokes. Vintage has opened flagship whisky stores with a wider range to cater to the new enthusiasm for Scotland’s homebrew.

Different regions produce wildly different whiskies, with flavours of smoke, grass, peat and heather. But first up, you have to get it down.

“A lot of young guys are coming to single malts through cocktails,” says Chalmers, “where your whisky sour [lemon, sugar, eggwhites] might add Lagavulin in place of Johnnie Walker for an accent on the smoke.”

Respectful cocktails, yes; mixers, no, says Sean Baxter, of Melbourne’s Baden Powell Hotel. “I had an American tourist come into a bar in Scotland and ask for a Lagavulin 16yo and Coke,” recounts Baxter. “So I pour the Lag, go for the Coke, and this old bloke reaches across and grabs my wrist, warning, ‘You’re taking your life into your own hands there, laddie.’”

So you don’t rub anyone’s kilt up the wrong way, here are GQ’s tips for going with the grain.

Club Bar, Park Hyatt, 7 Hickson Rd, Millers Point • Baden Powell Hotel, 61 Victoria Pde, Collingwood • The Bowery, 676 Ann St, Fortitude Valley • vintagecellars.com.au; 1300 366 084.

AGE GAUGE

A Talisker threeways maps whisky’s generation gap.

Talisker 10yo (from Skye, $84)
“It has a bit of everything and loves a beer chaser to open the flavours,” says Baxter. Think opening a jar of smoked oysters in a pepper warehouse, and you’re on the nose.

Talisker 18yo ($140)
“Age softens the smoke of the 10yo, while the sweetness at the front of the palate prevails,” says Chalmers. You’re looking for wood, vanilla and a quiet spot to sit back and melt.

Talisker 25yo ($399)
The rarity here involves “the alcohol level and volume reducing over time — known as ‘the angels’ share’,” says Binion. What’s left is truly heaven.

HOW TO DRINK MALTS

  1. “New adventurers should find a well-stocked venue as well as a barman guide for this rite of passage,” Chalmers advises.
  2. Start on your easy drinkers, the Highland or Speyside, then take on your more aggressive drops (Talisker, Lagavulin) once you’ve tested your mettle.
  3. Add water. “A dash of water never hurts to release the flavours and soften the alcohol,” advises Binion.
  4. Don’t add water. Yes, apologies for the confusion, but as the saying goes, “Never steal another man’s wife; never water another man’s whisky.” The choice is ultimately yours.
  5. Ice, baby? Well, again it’s a matter of preference. Ice can cool the fire of an Islay but stymie the Dalwhinnie.
  6. Please, no mixers.
  7. Wee sips. Don’t gulp; don’t chug (cold nights rebelling against England excepted).
  8. Go an ale chaser. “It really brings out the flavours,” says Baxter. “Try a Pepperjack Ale.”
  9. Slainte Mhath! (‘Good health’), which is one-upped by the response Slainte Mhor! (‘Great health’).

SINGLE FILES: A TASTING TOUR OF SCOTLAND

The cityboy
Glenkinchie 12yo (Lowlands, $96)
The ‘Edinburgh Malt’ enjoys a light palate of barley and young wood. It’s easy drinking and an ideal place to start before an explore. (Don’t be fooled by the lightness; it’ll lead to an urban sprawl.) This floral and grassy aperitif malt is for refined, indoorsy drinking.

THE SHOW PONY

Cragganmore 12yo (Speyside, $85)
This sweet-smelling and complex malt hails from the Spey Hills land of milk and honey. Minus the milk. A digestif whisky to savour through the night, it’s the dandy of the single malt clique, with fruit, light smoke and a malty finish. Kick it off with a drop of water.

THE BAD BOY

Lagavulin 16yo (Islay, $100)
This is not a pipe, but it’s not far off. From out of a peat-bog island comes an intense, smoky Islay drop with a sea-whisker of salt. Enjoying 20 times as much exposure to peat smoke as your average Speyside, it’s a smoker’s quaff for cold nights by a loch.

THE OLD SALT

Oban 14yo (West Highlands, $110)
The sea air of this coastal distillery brings a faint brine to the smooth fruit and smoky oak of this malt (and we’re not getting all Papa Hemingway poetic on you; barrels absorb a sprinkling of salt). Oban is the gnarled foodlover’s drop for long post-luncheon arvos.

THE ZENMASTER

Dalwhinnie 15yo (Highlands, $85)
Dalwhinnie (Gaelic for ‘meeting place’) is a remote mountain town, where distinctly refined spring water affords the self-proclaimed ‘gentle spirit’ a clean, light palate with honey and a long, lightly peated finish. Scottish yoga for rainy days.

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