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Scotland calling: Whisky to soothe your soul

Years ago, at a meal centered on the Scottish national dish of haggis (don't ask), I braced myself with very peaty, almost medicinal Islay single malts. They suited the moody landscape and the weather, which mandated a room heater in summer. It was the kind of stay that leads you to brood with Lagavulin and Bunnahabhain.

Peaty Scotch is a very acquired taste. You'll get a friendly introduction via a blended whisky, The Black Grouse. It's the offspring of The Famous Grouse, the popular blended whisky named for Scotland's red grouse.

The Black Grouse is an aromatic, blended whisky, and a lot smokier than The Famous Grouse in any of its bottlings. There's an ample amount of peated Scotch malt in the mix. It doesn't have the immediate, smooth appeal of its forebear. But the whisky has personality. Devotees of the very big, peaty single malts of Islay will find it very mild. But The Black Grouse is an easygoing introduction to peaty style. About $29.

For a mellower drink, look for the Cardhu 12-Year-Old, making a return to the shelves. The medium-bodied, Speyside single malt is clean, sweet with hints of honey and caramel - a harmonious Highland fling. $40-$49.

If you have more than a sipping interest in Scotch whisky and its relatives, dip into "The World Atlas of Whisky" (Mitchell Beazley/Octopus Books, $34.99) by Dave Broom. It's illustrated with enough evocative landscapes to make you reach for a dram and contemplate Johnnie Walker and Canadian Club to whiskey from Japan, India and Australia.

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