Structurally A Proper Highball
While many long drinks in tall glasses tend to be called highballs and are often though of that way a structurally correct highball is simply 1 part spirit, 2-2.5 parts carbonated beverage, and optional bitters or citrus peel. They do not contain juice or additional sweetener. I absolutely love this cocktail and it’s usually what I often make for myself when I’m home. It goes down easy and gives me all the pleasure of drinking a beer without the bloat. While the Japanese did not create the highball they have maintained the classic highball better than American or British cultures as the highball has continued to stay a popular beverage there.
The Spirit Of Drinking a Highball
Again even though it’s called a Japanese highball it was not invented by the Japanese. It’s called that because it’s still a very popular cocktail with Japanese business men after work. Similar to how the Japanese jigger was actually american but it eventually fell out of fashion in the USA and remained popular in Japan. Sadly most Americans find this cocktail dull at first taste and need to be told its history or how it’s popular in Japan to then say “oh, ok. I see”. American and British cocktail culture is one more of strong drinks with juice filled big flavors, and those are good, but this cocktail is all about subtlety done perfectly. This cocktail is all about perfect technique.
The Most Important Part
Most cocktails live in a gradient from good to bad and fall somewhere between. How well made or poorly made a cocktail will end up is based on ingredients and preparation. The most important part in making a Japanese highball, as well as the mizuwari, is your technique. How well you prepare each ingredient before moving on to the next step will either make or break this cocktail. No joke, this can be only be 1 of 2 things, perfect or awful. Learning how to prepare this cocktail taught me more about mixing drinks than any other cocktail.
1). Start with a chilled glass. Stemware matters too. A highball, collins, or zombie glass works (they are all pretty similar anyway). Thats because the drink needs the heavy wide base to hold extra coldness, and the straight sides make stirring easier. pint glasses are fine but they taper to a smaller base which means less cold surface area to whiskey ratio. Next add your ice and since the glass is already chilled there is no need to use the ice to chill it. If the glass is not chilled stir the ice to cool the glass and dump the water that has melted off. Also the ice is very important. This is the ice served with the drink so it should be hard, clear, and very cold ice. All of this is done to dilute the whiskey as little as possible before adding the soda water. It should be refreshing bubbly soda water lengthening the whiskey and not warmed melted ice.
2). Next add your whiskey and stir for maybe 10 seconds. This is to cool the whiskey down to near freezing so that once you add the soda water the warmth of the whiskey does not force carbonation to leave the drink. You don’t want to over stir and add risk adding too much water to the whiskey thus diluting it too much and making for a flat cocktail. Ice is typically around 0°F (-18°C) and whiskey freezes at -17°F (-27°C). So if you keep stirring it will keep getting colder and colder until it becomes the same temperature as the ice, 0°F, but it doesn’t need to get that cold. The drink is getting far colder than it needs to be and gaining extra flat melted ice along the way. It just needs to match the temperature of the soda water. Soda water will be refrigerated which will make it around 34°F (1°C). Then again you don’t really know when you have hit 34°F so just stir for 10 seconds-ish. That will get you in the right ballpark.
3). Next add the soda water. The ratio is 1 part whiskey to 2 – 2.5 parts soda. You’ll want to vary this based on how strongly flavored the whiskey is. Your aim is balance and opening up the flavors so a more strongly flavored whiskey may want 5oz soda water to 2oz whiskey and a more subtle whiskey would work better with 4oz soda water to 2oz whiskey. Know the whiskey and add what you think will make it taste better. Also how you pour is important too. don’t be violent and just pour it in. Pour gently and down the side of the glass to maintain as much carbonation as possible. The warmer and more aggressive the pour the more bubbles will leave.
4). Finally give it just two last stirs. Although don’t just turn the spoon in a circle but bring it to the bottom and pull the whiskey up into the soda water. Do this just two times to evenly mix the drink while losing as little carbonation as possible. A lot of work for a simple 2 ingredient drink right?