MxMo Highballs: the Japanese Whisky Highball

I just spent a couple of weeks in Japan where I took a crash course in Japanese whisky. Japanese whisky is closely related to Scotch whisky. It’s quite a fascinating story. The Japanese whisky industry was founded in the 1920s by a gentleman named Masataka Taketsuru. He was a chemist who went to Glasgow to study organic chemistry, worked at various Scotch distilleries, and met a Scottish girl that he married. When they moved to Japan, he was hired by Shinjiro Torii to open the first Japanese whisky distillery, Yamazaki. This whisky was launched under the name Suntory in 1929. Taketsuru later left Suntory to open his own distillery, Nikka, in 1934.

Back to our MxMo inspiration. In Japan, people typically enjoy their whisky on the rocks. Mixed drinks with Japanese whisky are not common, with one exception: the Highball. This is a relatively new trend and it’s a very simple drink. As with a lot of things in Japan though, it’s all about the technique. The process is as – if not more – important than the end result.

You want to use crystal-clear ice cubes (even the most basic joints I visited during my trip had impeccable ice). Ideally, the ice should be carved by hand from a large block. Pour 1 ounces of whisky. Pour 2 ounces of soda water onto the side of the glass to preserve carbonation, and gently stir. No garnish necessary.

Whisky Highball
Whisky Highball at the Narita Airport

I tried various iterations of this drink during my trip, and there were all good and distinctive, as there is quite a variety of Japanese whiskies available, from the very subtle and smooth (Taketsuru Pure Malt is a great example) to bolder ones such as Yoichi. The highball allows you to appreciate the flavor of the whisky without getting overwhelmed, especially if you are not already a Scotch drinker. You would not want to use your most expensive whisky in a highball, but it’s a great introduction to Japanese whisky.

Hibiki Highball at Maisen Tokyo
Hibiki Highball at Maisen, a tonkatsu restaurant in Tokyo

Thank you to Joel at Southern Ash for hosting MxMo this month.

References and further reading:


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