Like many people, my first foray into the world of Scotch was with a glass of Johnnie Walker.
I was at Jazz'd, and my friend Traci ordered Johnnie Black on the rocks.
The classiness - dare I say sexiness - of that order impressed me.
The way the dark liquor poured over the ice.
The smell, like a whiff of fine cigar smoke.
The way the rocks glass fit in Traci's hand and the subtle motion as she tipped it to her lips for a sip.
I flagged down the bartender and ordered one for myself.
That was years ago. I've long since abandoned the ice, and while I'm not opposed to Johnnie Walker on occasion, I'm much more likely to order a single malt Scotch, as opposed to a blend like Johnnie.
Jonathan Hendrick, the pub manager at Molly MacPherson's on Congress Street, tells me many people come to single malt Scotch by way of blends.
"There's nothing wrong with starting with Johnnie Walker. But what I like to tell people is to go to the source," he said. "Blended Scotch is blended with 20, up to 60, different single malt whiskies. So go to the single malt source."
With so much terminology, it often feels like it requires an advanced engineering degree to discuss Scotch. What exactly is Scotch and what is a single malt?
Scotch, put simply, is a type of whisky distilled in Scotland from pure malted barley and aged in oak casks for at least three years.
Most Scotch is aged for much longer, with 12 years being the traditional standard of excellence.
Single malt means everything in the bottle came from the same distillery.
Unfortunately, there's not much else about Scotch that can be explained simply. Each whisky is initially classified based on where in Scotland it comes from.
"There are five different regions and five totally different flavor profiles," Hendrick said.
He also points out that the regional classifications are an oversimplification. Within each region, flavors and types of whisky can vary widely.
It's a lot to process, but that is why I'm at Molly's in the first place, trying to find a good way to introduce the Scotch novice to the daunting world of single malts.
Hendrick helps me by selecting three whiskies - from Molly's selection of more than 250 - with more accessible flavors.
We start with Aberfeldy 12, distilled in the Highlands.
It opens with a floral flourish, a touch of citrus, before settling like thin honey through the mouth.
The earthy tones like peat and wood, typical of some Scotches, are subdued.
The sugar and spice - simple, familiar flavors - make Aberfeldy a great choice for a new Scotch drinker.
Up next, we sample one of my personal favorites, Balvenie Doublewood, so called because it is aged first in casks originally used to age bourbon, and then finished in sherry casks.
The wood of each cask is infused with flavor from its original use, and that's what gives Balvenie its distinctive palate. My favorite part of a sip is the sudden caramel finish, like an unexpected dessert. In addition, it offers strong overtones of citrus and spice, which are typical in Balvenie and other whiskies from the Speyside region.
Balvenie is one of the Scotches I recommend to new drinkers, and Hendrick agrees.
"Speysides are easier for people because they can understand the flavors. They understand the creaminess of an orange. They understand the bite of cinnamon. And that's how we're trying to introduce whisky to drinkers."
Our last sampling comes from the Auchentoshan Distillery in the Lowlands region.
Like the Balvenie, Auchentoshan Three Wood uses multiple barrels during the aging process to create a more complex flavor profile.
Compared to the other bottles behind the bar, the liquor looks almost red. In the mouth, if feels more robust than the other two Scotches we've sampled, the flavors a little more active on the tongue, like you have to pay attention or the taste might escape you. I'm pleased to find a center of dark chocolate.
"It's an easy whisky to sell people," Hendrick said. "Whisky novices and advanced alike, they can appreciate the flavors of it, and it's not so - I hate to use this word - Scotchy."
Scotland produces hundreds of unique whiskies, so three samples and one short article can't even begin to cover everything, but it's a start.
"The biggest advice I like to tell people is that you have to strip away all ideas you have about Scotch and be open-minded," Hendrick said. "You have to be willing to try it. You have to be a little adventurous."
Zach Powers is a writer and novelist. When he's not busy imbibing, he helps run the literary arts nonprofit Seersucker Live. Get to know him at ZachPowers.com.