Like Japan, we’re obsessed with highballs. And while a highball generally refers to a base spirit and a mixer served over ice in a tall glass, highballs in Japan almost exclusively refer to whisky sodas. When made properly, a highball is an extremely satisfying beverage that’s crisp, refreshing, and pairs well with everything. And although this drink seems simple at a glance, there are several important aspects that contribute to a good highball.

Whisky

Although you would never use a mature whisky to make a highball, that doesn’t mean that the whisky you choose should be of poor quality. Blended whiskies, which can take between 3-10 years to make, are ideal for highballs because they’re lighter, more subtle, less nuanced, and combine well with soda water. Multigrain whiskies, like Sunday’s Whisky, are softer, sweeter, and have a more pronounced presence of ethanol. Adding soda water to this particular whisky is perfect because it brings the ethanol down, making the whisky easier to enjoy.

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Ice

A good highball should always be cold. And like with most cocktails, ice is a very important component of a good highball. Although some highball styles like the Rockfish don’t require any ice inside of the glass, ice cubes and ice rocks are both used to create this drink. Ice should be made from alkaline water compressed into layers to ensure clear cubes and rocks. Glasses with stacked cubes allow the entire beverage to remain cold and ice rocks keep the highball from diluting too quickly.

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Glassware

The glassware used to serve a highball is just an important as the contents inside. A highball glass can normally hold 250-375 ml and while the general style of the glass is consistent throughout most bars, the thickness of the glass is just as crucial. Thin glasses are the key to good highballs because they are more tactile. The thinner the glass, the more liquid hits the palate, which provides a heightened sensory experience.

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Soda Water

Because most highballs use blended whiskies, soda water is important because it brings balance. Soda can help mask the “lesser” qualities of a whisky as well as and bring out the best, most dynamic flavors. In Japan, Wilkinson ‘Tansan’ soda water is the Suntory gold standard for highballs. This water comes from a source in Honshu near Kobe. It is a hard mineral soda water with good bubbles; these delicate bubbles bring texture to a highball and help provide a refreshing fizz after each sip.

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Garnish

Highballs don’t necessarily need garnishes as the crisp soda water combined with delicious whisky is an experience that can be enjoyed as is. However, in some cases, a light garnish can help bring out different flavors in a whisky and a highball as a whole. Common highball garnishes include a lemon peel, citrus zest, mint, and shiso leaf.

4 thoughts on “Breaking Down the Highball

  1. […] Although some Japanese restaurants have the reputation of being formal, structured, and traditional, there’s a flip side to Japanese cuisine that’s casual, fun, loud, and alcohol filled. Those are the places to go when you need to wind down after a long day of work and that’s where Japanese izakayas (居酒屋) come in. An izakaya is similar to a tavern, providing an informal and enthusiastic atmosphere for customers to eat and drink. Comparable to your local pubs, izakayas serve many different kinds of smaller dishes that pair well with cold beer, sake, and highballs. […]

  2. […] Japanese favorites such as beer, sake, and shochu are served along with simple cocktails like whisky highballs and shochu […]

  3. […] It comes with a heavy heart that today is our final day of service at 33-35 Bridges Street. As our first home and headquarters, we’ve made many amazing memories with our staff and customers in this space. From the trek up the stairs to get to Bridges Street to the copious amounts of sake, whisky, and chicken consumed inside the restaurant (and out on the street), it’s been an incredible run, to say the least. Here’s to six years of good times, great people, and to our next chapter on Wing Lok Street. Let’s reminisce with some throwbacks and join us tonight for one more highball. […]

  4. […] nothing more comforting than a simple drink that satisfies. And that’s exactly why highballs are so perfect – they’re a breeze to make, easy to drink, and always hit the spot. The […]

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