If ever there was a cocktail for the lazy, the Highball, essentially made with one part whiskey, three-part club soda and some ice, would fit the bill. Yet this simple drink can be one of the fussiest, high precision and elegant cocktails you can drink.
What many consider to be an easy cocktail, not worth fussing over, is endlessly perfected by the Japanese. Even though the highball was not originally invented by them, they certainly made it their own.
The spirit of perfection is what results in the invention of the highball machine. The highball machine, invented by local brand, Suntory, is created to guarantee quality highball every time straight from the tap. According to Cameron Pirret, Australian Brand Ambassador for Beam Suntory, the machines are now ubiquitous across Japan - further stating that the Highball is a national love for Japanese alcohol culture.
But Highball is not just popular amongst the Japanese. Pirret believes that apart from a worldwide love for all things Japanese, the rising trend of health-conscious consumers, ease of execution and the highball’s low ABV and sugar content props the drink as an all-time favourite.
An Everyday Drink to High Cocktail Art
You may wonder, how exactly does the Japanese turn this everyday two-part drink into a ritualistic art form? Well, it is through the meticulous care and concern lavished on every aspect of the drink - From ingredients to glassware and preparation techniques.
The Japanese way to a better highball
Hand Carved ice
Only hand-carved ice cubes, without bubbles and minerals, are used in Japanese cocktails allowing for fast chilling yet slow diluting of beverages.
Bartenders are trained to mix in a specific circling method - clockwise and precise number of stirs. The first stir begins in a tall glass filled with carved ice. The seasoned bartender starts stirring the ice until the sides of the glass begin to chill.
Precise Pouring and blending
Melted water from the ice is disposed of before whisky measure is poured into the chilled glass carefully and precisely without touching the top of the ice. A second stir begins, blending the whisky with ice gently. This involves thirteen and one-half stirs of the whisky clockwise. More ice is being topped into the glass before soda water is poured over the mix.
Cocktail Spoon Lift
The final stir of the mixture happens just before serving the highball. The cocktail spoon is fitted underneath the base of the ice and then lifted upwards in one smooth motion to blend the entire mixture. Another method is to stir the cocktail three and one-half times clockwise before serving.
Channel Your Inner Bartending Skill
Currently, we are constrained by heightened restrictions. Travelling is pretty much out of the question and dining in is not an option. For now, one could only dream of receiving the divine Japanese highball treatment. But on the bright side, this could be a chance for us to channel our inner bartending skills.
An enigma the highball may seem to be, it is not implausible to try a hand at it. In the words of Winston Churchill about the Highball - if you’re careful about how you make it, then it becomes less of “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”.
More than a Whisky and Soda Mix
Before we get into some of the valued components involved in crafting a good Highball, it is imperative to know that although it is a simple two-part drink, a Highball is more than just a whisky and soda mix.
There are almost limitless combinations of Highball flavours you can expect to conjure depending on the choice of soda mixture, Whisky or even the type of preparation methods used.
The Highball Factors
A Japanese highball is made with whisky, specifically Japanese whisky and not whiskey. Japanese whisky is known to be a softer, more nuanced style of whisky with floral notes. We would not have time to get into the different types of whiskies/whiskeys. But when it comes to selecting a good whisky/whiskey for any highballs, maturity is of the utmost importance (check out our previous article where we talk about aging in whiskies).
Soda water is used to dilute the alcohol percentage of the Whisky and amplify its flavour profile at the same time. This results in a stiff yet smooth and easy-to-drink cocktail - The tether, to a perfect drinking experience.
When it comes to choosing soda water, there are a few varieties to choose from, and it all boils down to your personal preference.
Hard seltzer is known for its neutral and clean taste making it a great canvas for adding flavours.
Club soda can be used interchangeably with seltzer. But as it is made with, added minerals such as potassium and sodium. It brings about an earthly and mineral heavy taste.
Mineral water is made with natural spring water and carries a distinct saltiness introduced by its mineral content.
Tonic water is made with quinine - A traditionally bitter medicine that gives tonic its signature taste. The distinct taste of tonic water makes it a mixer that is not easily substituted. As such, it is best reserved for making gin and tonics.
Highballs are to be served cold. The best Japanese highballs are known to be bracingly arctic. It is recommended to keep everything in the fridge from soda water through to the glass until ready for use.
The highball glass like Martini has its own namesake glassware but really you can use any type of tall glass bearing in mind the whisky to soda ratio. While there is no set guide on how much whisky or soda to pour, most bars do a 3:1 or 4:1 soda to whisky mix.
As mentioned earlier, only hand-carved ice cubes, without bubbles and minerals, are used in Japanese cocktails allowing for fast chilling yet slow diluting of beverages. To create hand-carved ice cubes from our home bar - freeze ice in a takeaway container and then chip it into suitable blocks for the glass.
There are endless variations of highball garnishes, from lemon wedges to citrus peels and cucumber slices. To help you get started, here are some tips for garnishing your highball based on the type of Japanese whisky used.
Lighter Whiskies with Herbs
Fuller and Spicier Whiskies with Citrus
Fuller and spicier whiskies such as Asakura Koji and Nikka Pure Malt are best paired with citrus garnishes such as lemon wedges or orange peel. You may also try adding a splash of citrus juice like orange, yuzu, lemon or lime.
Easy or Fussy It’s Still Fancy
We hope to have piqued your interest in trying some of the Japanese methods in making highballs. For those who find the methods cumbersome and prefer to keep highball making as simple as a two-part drink recipe - easy and fuss-free, that is fine as well.
Regardless of your highball making preference, here is an easy yet fancy recipe for you to try and bring some joyful high to your family members (above 18 years old). For those inclined to try out the above techniques, feel free to modify the recipe accordingly.
Easy and Fancy Highball Recipe - Makes Four Drinks
- Chill your favorite whisky bottle (japanese whisky recommended), soda water, and glasses in the freezer for 30 minutes
- Fill the chilled glasses with two third full of ice
- Add 45 ml of whisky to each glass
- Top each drink with 120-150ml of chilled soda water and cheers!
A Baller at Highball
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