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Welcome To Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week's Cocktail, The Japanese Highball!
Just two ingredients. This one's easy, right?
Greetings, Wonketeers! I’m Hooper, your bartender. Today I wanted to feature a drink that fascinates me professionally. I love making tiki cocktails, and 15 ingredient monsters like the Zombie never faze me. But what about something just as complex, from a completely different angle? Straight out of Tokyo, we’ve got a two-ingredient cocktail that comes with its own special method of preparation … maybe. Let’s make a Japanese Highball. Pay attention, folks. It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it:
2.5 oz Toki Suntory Japanese Whisky
1 can Q Club Soda
Directions, Izakaya Style:
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Chill all ingredients and tools well before service (whisky, soda, glass, and bar spoon). Add one ice cube to the highball glass. Stir vigorously, then pour off the melted water from the ice. Add another 2-3 ice cubes. Pour the whisky into the glass along the lip of the vessel, trying to avoid making contact with the ice. Add the club soda in the same fashion. Stir the cocktail 13 1⁄2 times with the chilled bar spoon. Lift the ice gently off the floor of the cup with the bar spoon and let it drop down again, 2-3 times. Serve.
That is … a lot. From a Western perspective, it sounds precise and refined, like a tea ceremony, only with booze. It raises a two-ingredient cocktail into an art form. You would think that a drink like this would taste magnificent, a microcosm of Japanese culture. And it’s certainly the “right” way to make an authentic Japanese highball. But so is this:
1 Can Suntory Premium Japanese Highball
Directions, Sararīman Style:
Pour into a chilled highball glass over ice. Serve.
Whisky highballs are a blue-collar drink at heart. Suntory is a huge liquor distribution company (they own Jim Beam), and Toki Suntory is by no means an expensive bottle. A highball dilutes that whisky down to the ABV of a good beer. The first set of directions makes a cocktail; the second one makes a drink. And that’s okay. There’s a time and place for both.
So why all the razzmatazz for the izakaya style? When you go out to an izakaya — or any bar, really — it’s for the culture. You’re leaving your home and going to a social space, to be around other people and be part of a crowd. Every bar has an atmosphere of a shared place, from an Ohio Moose Lodge bar with a Lotto machine in the back, to a tiki bar jammed with island bric-a-brac and surf music, to a basement izakaya filled with bamboo and red lanterns. When you visit a bar, you take some of that atmosphere with you. Each place makes you feel different when you leave: part of the neighborhood, a traveler coming back from an island getaway, or a ronin living on the serene edge. Watching a bartender pour an excellent Japanese highball brings you back from a chaotic day at the office, and makes you feel like someone worth a tiny piece of art.
There is one other good reason to go through all the shenanigans of making a proper Japanese highball — the “secret ingredient” in the glass. It’s not the club soda, or the whisky, or the ice. It’s the bubbles. A proper Japanese highball should be very, very carbonated, almost painfully so. You pre-chill every part of the cocktail because cold stuff fizzes more, and the stirring rigamarole brings more froth and sizzle to the drink. That’s why canned highballs don’t disappoint — they can nail the carbonation every time. Done right, a highball forms a short-lived head of foam as tall as a good draft beer.
With all that in mind, make your own highball the way you want to. It’s your cocktail, or your drink. Think about what you taste as you imbibe, though. It’s more than what’s in the glass.
Let’s talk ingredients:
Toki Suntory Japanese Whisky: This whisky is made explicitly for the American market, and is expressly intended for a highball. It’s a very tasty whisky too — light, sweet, and smooth, cleaner than an Irish whisky, nowhere near as brassy and thick as bourbon. If you don’t have Toki, try another Japanese whisky. You can also use bourbon, but reduce the amount from 2 ½ oz to 2 oz to maintain the right flavor profile.
By the way, I checked and Suntory doesn’t sell canned highballs in the US. Sorry to be a tease.
Q Club Soda: Club soda isn’t the same as sparkling water or seltzer. Seltzer is simply carbonated water, club soda adds salt, and sparkling water adds minerals for flavor. In this case, we’re looking for maximum carbonation, and Q delivers this. It’s supremely fizzy, and the can is the perfect volume for a 3:1 ratio highball. Unsurprisingly, izakaya bartenders will use a mix of one or more bubbly waters to get the perfect flavor profile. Topo Chico is a solid alternative to Q, and less pricey to boot.
In summary and conclusion, drink well, drink often, and tip your bartender — donate to Wonkette at the link below!
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