“Vamos de copas esta noche!” – the words crackle across the ether from Barcelona to Bilbao via countless mobile phones. It is early evening and one half of Spain is inviting the other out for a drink. When Paul, a young English teacher in Madrid, receives the call-up from Consuela Dìaz, a glamorous 28-year-old PR Consultant, he has to remember to act cool. It is not as if it’s a date, at least not a proper date, and Paul knows he won’t have Consuela to himself. Even a trip to the cinema seems to involve the whole gang.The ritual is always the same – the gang clusters round the bar while the barman lines up a row of tall glasses into which he tips a generous shot of Scotch such as Ballantine’s, Cutty Sark or Jota Beh, as J&B is known. These are then packed with ice and topped up with Coke. It certainly beats Paul’s local pub in Cheshire where a ‘whisky’ means a few drops dribbled into a dusty glass from an optic.Thus armed, the gang has something long and refreshing to get them through the night. The venue will change, from bar to disco and back again, as will the brands of Scotch. It might not always be whisky, but the mixer will always be Coke.France
After spending the summer on the back of her boyfriend’s motorbike touring the west coast of Scotland, Juliette Brioche, a mature student from Toulouse, realised she had fallen in love. The object of her desire was not so much Gaspard, whose sour moods and take on personal hygiene became something of an issue, as the mesmerising country itself. She was bewitched by the country’s dark, melancholic beauty and the memories are still quite vivid back home in her flat. This is especially so late at night, brought on by a drop of Aberlour and a mournful Celtic ballad drifting from the CD player. But when out with friends in the bars behind the university, Juliette is more than happy with a trusty blend – probably a Label 5 or Clan Campbell. She always takes it on the rocks, sometimes straight, sometimes long, sometimes mixed with Coke – it just depends on her mood. She loved the recent Clan Campbell promotion with its troupe of fire-eaters, bagpipe players and snake charmers whose black kilts shimmered in the moon light.It was like the Cirque du Soleil, only better. Last week she decided to apply to do the final year of her course at Strathclyde University unaware the students there drink nothing but vodka and Red Bull. UK
Bill Rummage is a regular bloke who drinks Bell’s, Grouse and Teacher’s, though not at the same time – it just depends what’s on offer at the local supermarket. Though Bill is not fickle by nature, regular £2 price-offs have eroded whatever brand loyalty he might once have had. Not that he’ll stoop to own-label or ‘Glen McBudget’. Besides, since Rummage Construction was bought out last year and he took early retirement, he’s quite well-off. Bill is a long-standing member of the local golf club and always has a dram or two at the 19th hole. Recently the club bore made some comment when he squirted soda into his Glenmorangie and had to be told where to go. Rummage drinks whisky how he bloody well likes.He has tried other malts, but swears he’ll never touch Laphroaig again after over-indulging on a Hebridean sailing holiday a few years ago. At home there’s a half-full bottle of Macallan 10-year-old, though he suspects his wife Sheila bought it mistakenly thinking it was sherry.USA
Steve Shultz has been Barman at the Fedora Cigar Bar in Manhattan’s Lower East Side for 18 months. In that time he has poured a lot of Scotch, which gives him some insight into how a tiny fraction of American society has kept the faith with Scotland’s barley bree. At the Fedora, Scotch essentially means malt which is drunk in large, heavy tumblers, usually neat and on the rocks. Strong, peaty malts seem to be in right now as do older expressions, though this is not unconnected with what’s happening on Wall Street. When the market’s going nuts, you should see these guys with their vintage Glenlivets and their Macallan 18-year-olds. Steve suspects there’s more than a little one-upmanship going on here.Over in Marin County, CA, Chuck Komanski drinks ‘Doo-ers’ just like his grandfather. In the Komanski household, Dewar’s White Label skipped a generation and Chuck’s dad drank only Jack Daniel’s. Chuck has just turned 30 and works in construction. Once or twice a week he finds time to slip into the Pelican Bar for a Scotch. The barman packs a big glass with ice and free-pours a generous double.Japan
Early evening in Osaka, the Barman at the Harbour Inn is bent over a block of ice oblivious to the world. He is carefully sculpting individual balls of ice, each the size and flawless character of a large marble – to put in people’s drinks.One of the first customers is Takamasa Hayakawa, a 46-year-old architect on his way home from work. Takamasa orders a 12-year-old Bowmore and knocks it back in one, before ordering a Seagull – a cocktail of Bacardi, lime, Cointreau and more of that malt. As it was named after the Harbour Inn at Bowmore, it’s not surprising Osaka’s version is a shrine to the Islay distillery. Meanwhile in the Ropongi district of Tokyo, Micchi-san, a 27-year-old Account Director with a leading advertising agency, is sipping a Chivas Manhattan. The brands of whisky, ranging from locally-bottled Scotch to deluxe imports are varied as the venues themselves. Yet even in the smallest whisky bar, an air of ceremony persists – even if they don’t sculpt their own ice balls.South Korea
Everything about Kim Sung-Lee, from his plain blue suit to his Rolex watch to the way he drinks his whisky proclaims him to be a senior middle-manager for a chaebol – one of the country’s huge business conglomerates. Appearances do not deceive, and Kim is a 42 year-old Marketing Vice-President (Fork-lift Trucks) for the Dywoo Corporation in the capital, Seoul.Whisky drinking usually begins at around seven when Kim and male work colleagues congregate at one of the city’s up-market Room Salons. Fiendishly expensive bottles of Dimple and Windsor Club are brought to their table by demure waitresses and the whisky is drunk straight, sometimes with ice, in small shot glasses. The bottles are 50cl – a cunning ruse by the Bar Manager to persuade customers to reorder and drink more. Last night Kim was invited on to a karaoke bar by members of an advertising agency who have been pitching for one of the Dywoo accounts. After a few more shots, this time of J&B Jet, the Creative Cirector shuffles onto the stage to crucify an early Sinatra number. Then it is Kim’s turn, and gripping the microphone firmly, he pauses to steady himself on his legs, before belting out the opening lines to Oh Lord, It’s Hard To Be Humble.Venezuela
Pedro La Barca is 35 and works for a big petro-chemical company in the capital Caracas. He drives a slightly dented two-year-old four-wheel-drive and wears Tommy Hilfiger and a Tag Heuer watch. The economic boom times when the country was the world’s second largest importer of champagne may be well in the past, but there’s still plenty of money around. With crime rates rising, the rich are more discreet about displaying wealth on the street. But once inside, in the smart bars where most premium Scotch is drunk, there are no Anglo-Saxon hang-ups about flaunting it. Pedro usually asks for his favourite brand – Something Special, but has recently discovered La Perdiz, known to its makers as Famous Grouse – which the barman free pours into a large tumbler packed with ice. When feeling flush he might indulge in a Glenfiddich, a Buchanan 18-year-old or a Johnnie Walker Gold. Despite the Glenfiddich, Pedro has never knowingly drunk malt whisky in his life.
At the other end of town cheap, locally produced whiskies that sell for as little as US$4 a bottle are steadily taking over from Venezuelan rum. Not that Pedro, a thoroughly brand-conscious Marketing Executive, would be caught dead drinking the stuff.Greece
Dimitris Zalacouras is driving home from work in his four-wheel-drive Toyota, rounding up the troops on the mobile for an evening out. He has been working late in his cousin’s freight-forwarding business in smoggy central Athens – it’s been a long, hard day and Dimitris wants to party. If only the damned traffic would give him a break! Eventually he makes it back to his apartment in Kalithea, near the southern edge of Athens, with just enough time to wash and pull on a pair of stone-washed jeans, which are slightly too long.Though he considers himself a thoroughly modern and independent man, Dimitris lives above his dear old mum, and while out at work, the kind Mrs Zalacouras tidies his messy flat, stocks his bare fridge and irons his crumpled shirts ready for the next day’s work. After a considerably easier ride back into the city he meets his group of friends in a bar a little after 10pm and orders a round of Scotch. His drinking habits are those of any red-blooded Athenian male in his early 30s, in this, the land where per capita consumption of spirits has no equal on earth. By day he lives on a drip-feed of thick, black coffee which eventually gives way to cold beer in the evening – though only at the height of summer. Otherwise it’s Scotch, bought for serious money by the bottle in the bouzoukia bars where the mixers and the music come free.Thailand
Anuchit works as a Sales Manager for a thrusting Thai Telecom company in Bangkok and is doing alright. Just turned 30, he is the proud owner of a dark blue BMW and has most of the right labels hanging in his wardrobe. His haircut is not far from that guy on MTV and his wife thinks the world of him. When Anuchit’s boss recently took the sales team out to dinner and ordered a couple of bottles of Spey Royal, it was shared out among male and female colleagues and drunk in tall glasses over ice with plenty of soda. Tonight, Anuchit is celebrating a friend’s birthday in a local bar and asks for the half-full bottle of Clan MacGregor he left there a week before. By the time the party of five are halfway through a second bottle, it is decided to move on. Anuchit summons the barman who writes his name and the amount left onto a card and puts the unfinished bottle behind the bar for next time. The next venue is a huge disco bar beneath an international hotel full of wealthy Thais and ex-pats. There are bottles on every table – mainly Chivas Regal and Johnnie Walker Black. Germany
Last time Jurgen Mittelheim went to Spain he almost had a heart attack. There, on the terrace of the hotel, was a lady drinking Cardhu and Coke! How could anyone allow that precious cocktail of esters and higher aldedehydes be raped by a sweet, fizzy drink? But when he relates the tale to fellow members of his malt whisky club in Frankfurt, they all laugh. Like drinking Château Latour with a Big Mac, it does have a certain subversive appeal. Not that Jurgen or his friends would dare – to a man they drink their malts neat, often at cask strength.Jurgen is a research chemist for a pharmaceutical firm and got into single malts at the Braveheart Bar in Wilhelm Strasse. Unlike other malt clubbers he came here from blends, and like a true born-again convert can be evangelical. Jurgen is armed with back-copies of Der Whisky Botschafter and is not afraid to use them. He suspects some Distillery Managers, like the fellow who used to run Lagavulin, are not serious enough at times.Australia
“Mine’s a Jim Beam and Cola” … “I’ll have a Chardonnay” … “Two Dogs for me mate”. Nathan Roberts is outside sorting out the drinks for his guests and tending to the barbie, while his wife, Kylie, prepares a salad in the kitchen. It is a scene replicated across suburban Melbourne on this warm November night. The quantity and variety of booze is impressive, yet few of the alcohol/soft drink hybrids feature whisky.As if to redress the balance, Nathan pours himself a tall glass of William Grant’s and Coke, takes a hefty slug and gives the barbie another poke. ‘What would gramps make of this?’ he wonders. The late Cameron Roberts used to sell Scotch wholesale in the days before real men drank wine and long before alcopops. Gramps’s legendary thirst for the hard stuff had gone down in family folklore. It was said if you went to the right spot in the cemetery and dug six feet down, you’d find him pickled in Black Douglas.Portugal
‘When you’re in your 20s life’s about parties, booze and birds. When you’re older, who needs to party?” Rui Sousa smiles as he looks up at the giant billboard on his way to work as a buyer for the Sonae supermarket chain in Lisbon. Good old Cutty Sark – now that’s the language he understands! Though he might not describe himself as such, Rui is a bit of an ageing yuppie with his Italian suits, plain Armani tie and convertible Saab.After work he stops off for a Cutty or two with ice and soda while his colleagues drink Ballantine’s before heading home to wife and supper in his three-bed apartment.This Friday at around 11pm, the two of them will drive up to the Bairro Alto with friends to eat fish, drink wine and perhaps listen to a fado player singing folk songs. He’ll probably have a J&B 15-year-old in a brandy glass to round off the meal, before everyone heads off to a club. With luck his wife will want to get going as the kids wake at seven, so he’ll pop her into a taxi before one last whisky at the Elefante Ladies’ Bar. Several hours later he’ll crash out in his own bed with a smile – who needs to party?
On a warm summer evening after thunderstorms have passed, Herman van der Merwe, a retired engineer, likes to sit on the stoep and watch the sun go down on Pretoria. Cradled in his hands is a glass with a decent slug of Teacher’s, ice and soda. Some of his friends drink Scotch but most prefer brandy and Coke, as if unable to shake off the old, sweet taste of mampoer – the Afrikaans version of peach brandy. Tonight Herman is driving over to his brother’s house to celebrate the latest Springboks victory.Lucas Mkue, a 38-year-old business consultant, has parked his Mercedes in the underground car-park of one of Joburg’s chic international hotels. The ride in the lift will give just enough time to straighten his tie before entering the lobby for this evening’s party. It is being thrown by a government department as part of a drive to lure foreign investment, this time from Taiwan. The omens are good and with some help from Johnnie Walker a major deal could be on the cards.Italy
Giuseppe Pallino has a secret, something he has never told his girlfriend, Daniela. As a first-year student in Milan he once got drunk on a bottle of Glen Grant 5-year-old and fell flat on his face in the street. Being astemio, or teetotal, like one in four of her peer-group, Daniela would never condone such loss of control. Giuseppe remembers struggling to explain his predicament in the chemist the morning after. Not easy when there is no word for hangover in the Italian language. It seems most of his compatriots have never gone that far.He has not completely lost the taste for whisky however, and still shares the occasional pallid dram of Glen Grant as an after-dinner digestivo with his father who once visited the distillery on a bus tour of the Highlands in ‘86. But the bottle he gave his old man last Christmas is still half full. Meanwhile his friend Ernesto has discovered a Scottish bar selling Bellhaven beer and a good range of single malts. The other night Giuseppe sipped a ‘dal-weenie’, and wondered if its dark colour meant it was somehow fattening. As far as he knows this was his first tentative trip to the world of malts – unaware that he’d been living there all along. Brazil
As one of the millions of worker bees in that great Latin metropolis, São Paulo, Paulo Sabino reckons he has more than earned his daily slug of Scotch as he heads home from the office. After a quick shower he pulls on some Gap jeans and a shirt by the Brazilian brand, Richard’s, before jumping into his two-year-old Mitsubishi Pajero for a drink with the boys downtown. Chances are it will be a Johnnie Walker Red with ice and water, though at weekends he sometimes has Chivas Regal.Paulo is 45 and works as an Account Director for a big US ad agency. He developed a taste for older whiskies – notably 12-year-old Dewar’s Special Reserve and Logan – while on a secondment to Lisbon where he worked for the agency’s sister company.By the time he retires, he reckons he’ll have enough air miles to build a retirement home in space. The question remains whether he’ll have to bring his own booze, or whether the Scotch industry will have conquered that frontier.