Australia: Why is whisky back in fashion?

So why is whisky in all its forms becoming the tipple of choice in bars today? There are bars in Melbourne dedicated to it, courses in its history and nuances, and high-end restaurants are increasingly adding the brown stuff to their cocktail menus. Grandpa's liquor cabinet is suddenly back in fashion.

It's perhaps appropriate that one of the most popular whisky cocktails is known as the Old Fashioned, since the very appeal of these spirits is bound up in the passing of time. They're all aged - they're the original "slow drink" - and Chez Regine's Brooke Hayman notes the romance of realising that somebody barrelled the drink you're tasting before you were even born.

They can invoke a sense of continuity: while drinking culture is often gripped by flash-in-the-pan fads, the classic cocktail offers a link to the past. "When people learn that they're drinking the same thing people drank in the 1920s jazz era or even before that, they light up," she says. And the Old Fashioned's renewed popularity can be directly linked to its preference by that icon of nostalgia, Mad Men's Don Draper.

The Kodiak Club is all about American Whisky (a term that encompasses bourbon, rye and Canadian whiskies). Like Chez Regine, the venue is another new kid on the block. Debritt opened the bar 10 months ago and has built up a list of about 60 American whiskies; he's off to Kentucky in August and hopes to bring back another 20 or so.

If you associate bourbon with bar brawls and barf, it's just that your exposure has been limited to the cheap stuff, says Debritt. "It's like tequila. Everyone associates tequila with that one bad night they had when they were 16. But there's such a variety."

What does a good bourbon taste like? "Smooth. It's about the quality of the finish. With any kind of basic spirit you get the flavour hit and then the alcohol hit. When you drink a high-grade spirit there's a lot more complexity to the flavours and it's generally a lot smoother."

At both The Kodiak Club and Chez Regine, chatting about the product is de rigueur. "You find you can educate people and they're quite willing to be educated," says Debritt. "Plus we have a long bar, so there's a lot of interaction."

The response is testament to whisky's return to grace: "In the last three months we've trained 600 people. We've been running them five times a week with 20 people in each class. It's great to see people so excited."