My first experience with Highball was back in 2006, when on a visit to a Bar in London, I asked for a refreshing cocktail and the Bartender ( thing he was an Irishman, from his accent ! ), made me a really cold Cocktail, in a tall slim glass, with lots of Ice. Whilst I loved the Cocktail, I honestly did not know what it was ! Later after another drink, he shared with me that it was indeed a Highball, made with Yamazaki 12 YO. The whisky highball is a perfect example of a cocktail that has resonance across the world and has been adopted by a wide variety of consumers. It is found everywhere from London’s finest establishments to Izakayas in Japan and sports bars in the United States. In the beginning, nearly any spirit could be used in a Highball, although whisky soon became the primary spirit of this classic serve.
Actually speaking, a Highball is spirit based Tall Drink, served with a carbonated mixer, with a lot of Ice. In our case, we mostly refer to is as Scotch & Soda, though it can be Whisky & Gingerale, Gin & Tonic or even Rum & Coke. Whilst there are no substantial proof of cost creation, there are several contenders. Pat Duffy from New York, claims to have invented it in 1890`, when he opened a Bar near the Theatre. There was great demand for Scotch & Soda and sales boomed. Actors & Visitors alike ordered the new refreshing drink. As more & more orders were placed, Highball became a very popular drink. Even later during prohibition, it was sold at “Speakeasy Bars” & still well appreciated. Post Prohibition, the highball acquired a status symbol and was offered at all Gentlemen`s Bars, through equally well enjoyed by Ladies. Even in the Vogue Book of Etiquette, 1948, it finds a mention as a refined “Drink of Choice”. The Trend continued until 1980`s, when Vodka took over as the new drink of choice. It was later to rise again when Japan took the lead and re-launched Highball as a post work drink.
The Highball as we enjoy today. was invented in the UK, transported to the US with a brief stopover back in London and then landed in Japan – to the extent it is often perceived as a Japanese drink. It did find its way to bars in Asia, but it was still evolving at that time.
The British took to Highball as Scotch & Soda after the collapse of Cognac. The American named Highball after the Railroad and The Irish refer to a glass of whiskey as a “Ball”. Ken Bromfield, the Australian Head of Whisky Live, confessed to me in last August “The Aussie`s Love their Highball anytime of the day. Just ensure it is chilled with generous whisky”.
The Japanese enjoy Beer & at times Sake, but the Highball has made a statement none else has !
The Japanese introduced Highball in 1950s to salaried workers, as a drink to enjoy “post work”. It was refreshing & Suntory started offering the same at its Tory Bars. Japan was also recovering from a down turn, so people needed a reason to relax. A glass full of ice, with whisky and topped off with Soda, was a great way to calm down after a day of work. The Trend grew and highball gained in Japan so much that Bartenders across the world refer to it as a Japanese drink, thus ensuring sales of domestic whiskies booming. Later the global bartending community, started refining the same with Ice, garnishes & wedges of lemon.
The early 2000`s saw a dip in the Japanese lifestyle, with purse strings being tightened due to a slow down in the economy. Suntory revived the Highball again in 2006-08, when youngsters aspired for a lifestyle that was enjoyed by their grand parents, full of good food & drink. But they considered whisky as the choice of the previous generation. As such, Suntory, recreated the Highball, in a more stylish & contemporary way, with style, verve & new ingredients. Young bartenders, vied with each other to create different versions. In 2009, over 40,000 Bars across Japan listed Highball all as one of their top selling drinks. Aided by TV commercials, new generation of bartenders, Whiskies like Kakubin witnessed an over 50% growth in sales on a year on year basis.
Earlier this year, in London, Rob Allanson, my friend & the editor of Whisky magazine, took a deep breath and generous sip of his Highball and shared with me,” In Japan they enjoy Highball with Food, so it needs to be subtle, full of flavour & go well with food.”
According to Mathew Wooler, Australia`s Leading Spirit Expert, “Australia has some seen increasing success with the concept of the highball as more than just a way to water down a whisky for the faint of heart. Even though the concept has been celebrated by the Japanese market it is still relatively new to our shores. Point of fact is the integration of the highball as a easy to create summer cocktail is seeing more and more consumption by request. I can sight it is largely due to Suntory’s influence around 2014 with the launch of the Hakushu and Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserves which were originally promoted as whiskies designed for Highball cocktails. For my business Dramnation, which provides monthly whisky appreciation and education events to a domestic audience, the use of a highball cocktail as an event welcome drink is highly successful and something I now cannot do without. When balanced well with soda or tonic and some herbal or citrus influence gives patrons a clear indication that whisky does not have to be consumed neat but instead can be clean and refreshing any time of the year.”
Bars have their own recipes for Highball (known in Japan as a haiboru) ingredients carefully chosen, with predefined quantity and gently added, almost like a prayer ! Ice plays a huge role with different shapes, hand-carved, clear and shaped each time.
There are variations of the highball that are commonly available. The most common one uses Suntory whisky, Ice balls & fresh lemon wedge. Another version serves the same with one large chunk of ice instead of several cubes. Interesting guests too have their own choice.
I was treated to an amazing Highball at Baxter`s Inn, Sydney, By Stuart “Chewy” Morrow, the General Manager, with a tall claim, it’s the best you can get.”… and it was splendid. It was made with Sullivan`s Cove, the Best Single Malt in the World and I must admit the feeling as anything but downunder.
Last year in London, I tasted a Highball with Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky & it was outstanding. According to Roger Wright, a Whisky expert based in Orkney, Scotland, “ It appears that almost every bar in Japan has its own version of the Highball, my favourite is the one with Mint Leaves.”
Though, The Highball is sometimes confused with another classic Japanese serve, the mizuwari, literally translating as “whisky and water”. While essentially they are both whisky based drinks mixed with water, there is one very important difference – Carbonation! Unlike the Mizuwari, another classic Japanese whisky serve that blends whisky with water, the fundamental Highball characteristic is Carbonation.
Highball is also sold in cans and once chilled, they are poured overlarge cubes of ice for an instant serve. ABV can be 7% or even 9%9% ABV instead of 7%).
So will India enjoy a Highball. I guess we should since, Whisky & Soda are one of our favourite combinations. I am not sure it’s a High-ball since its lot of soda and less Ice, but if our Bartenders get on with it, we too can be a nation of “Highballers”.
Hopefully, we will see Japanese whiskies being introduced in India, which will allow Bartenders to offer the Perfect Pour of Highball.
“Hit a Happy High on Highball but Enjoy Responsibly”