Whisky Highball: A Cocktail That No Longer Belongs In Dive Bars

This whisky and soda concoction gets a luxe update in the hands of Japanese bartenders.
It used to be that ordering a highball was saved for grimy-floored dive bars where your drink would come with a flimsy paper straw. But these days, the whisky and soda concoction is getting a fancier spin as more bartenders are putting their spin on the drink.

Over at The Container Japanese Wagyu Tapas & Cocktail Bar, their version of the highball uses wagyu whisky as the star ingredient. Here, a smoky Nikka Taketsuru pure malt is fat-washed with the left over beef fat from the wagyu dishes, then finished off with a spritz of yuzu so diners get that first whiff of citrus.

Play nice with the ice

The bar also pays close attention to how they make their ice here, a key element to getting the drink down pat. Says restaurant manager Alex Avramov: "The bubbles are crucial in the highball, so the water you use to make the ice cubes should ideally be natural mineral water. The ice cubes should be medium-sized, small enough to fit the glass but not too small so the highball doesn't become diluted too fast."

At Bar High Five in Tokyo, master bartender Hidetsugu Ueno is also particular about the type of ice served in his bar.
Fat-washed wagyu whisky from The Container.
Fat-washed wagyu whisky from The Container.
To keep a highball chilled for as long as possible, crystal-clear ice balls are used so the time taken to melt into the drink is longer. "Ideally just one (or two) large pieces of ice to fit the glassware you use," says Ueno.

Don't forget the soda

While ice might be important, another key element to creating a good highball is the soda water used. Chua Khoon Hui, co-owner of Quaich Bar, says: "A good highball should be a refreshing drink. Rather than the type or shape of ice, what is more important is that the soda must be fresh (bubbly) and cold, so that the drink remains chilled. If the soda is cold, there is no worry about dilution or making the drink flat (not sparkling)."

It also takes skill to make sure all the right ingredients are stirred up correctly. For instance, how you pour the soda water also makes a difference to the type of highball you end up with. "You must pour it with no wave, fast enough between ice and inside of glassware so you don't really need to stir to mix it," says Ueno.

SEE ALSO: Fancy Mocktails Are The Latest Cocktail To Have In Bars
Then, there’s the proportions. While a highball in America usually involves average whisky doused with a splash of soda, the Japanese-inspired version is more refined. The common practice is to use three parts of (filtered) water to one part of whisky, to bring down the strength of the alcohol so the drink won’t overpower the food.

"At Quaich Bar, we use 45ml of good whisky (honeyed, malty, citrus notes work best), poured into a highball glass filled with ice, before we pour in about 120ml of Schweppes soda water," says Chua.

With highballs as good as these, save the whisky on the rocks for after dinner. This cocktail has gone past dive bar standards to come into its own.
Recommended Reading: View more cocktail stories here. 
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