Highball is the classic cocktail that everyone knows- a mixed alcoholic drink with a non-alcoholic mixer, often a carbonated beverage. So, a highball combined with whiskey and carbonated beverage can be called a “Whiskey highball.”
Despite the definition of this classic highball cocktail, highball in Japan refers to whiskey and soda, which is a popular Izakaya drink as well as beer and Chu-Hi.
Why has “whiskey and soda” called Highball in Japan become the staple drink?
It seems not only because Japan is one of the countries that produce good whiskey.
Here are 5 secrets of highball in Japan that makes you enjoy whiskey highball more.
- What’s Highball In Japan
- whiskey Highball’s History
- Suntrpry Contribution
- How To Make The Ultimate Japanese-style whisky highball
- How To order Highball at Izakaya in Japan
- Anyway, What’s The Cocktail Called Highball
- What Is Highball In Japan
- The History Of Whiskey Highball
- Suntory’s Effort Toward The Whiskey Sales Revival
Anyway, What’s The Cocktail Called Highball
Highball 1: an iced drink containing liquor (such as whiskey) and water or a carbonated beverage (such as ginger ale) and served in a tall glass 2: a railroad signal for a train to proceed at full speed -Merriam Webster
In general across the world, the cocktail called “highball”, is not only based on whiskey but also any liqueur, or spirits mixed with carbonated beverages.
For example, it is “highball” even mixed with a sweet liqueur and ginger ale.
Since highball is a general term for cocktails, you need to order what kind of highball you like to mix with what.
For example, you need to order “whiskey and soda” when you want the whiskey with soda.
Yet, somehow, “highball” often refers to “Whiskey and soda” in Japan.
So, “whiskey and soda” will be served when you order “highball”.
What Is Highball In Japan
The cocktail called “highball” in Japan mainly refers to “whiskey and soda”. Sometimes, it refers to “Shochu and soda” which is often called “Chu-Hi”.
(So, the name of “Chu-Hi” is actually made from “Shochu and Soda”. )
Now let’s talk about Japanese “whiskey highball”.
When whiskey was recognized as the status drink after the war, “whiskey and soda” was also a popular cocktail since it makes whiskey easy to drink and goes well with Washoku, Japanese cuisine.
However, whiskey highball popularity cooled down around the 1970s.
While people were obsessed with ice-cold (fake) beer, Chu-Hi, and sour cocktails at cheap Izakaya restaurants, whiskey and whiskey highball were getting left out due to the whiskey stereotypes.
Japanese Izakaya Dirnks
The History Of Whiskey Highball
The glory of this popular cocktail has a secret story related to the decline in whiskey sales after 1983.
Whiskey began to be popular in Japan after World War II.
With the Japanese economic miracle, whiskey was rapidly getting a reputation as a stylish drink and a status symbol among gentlemen.
Besides, top-shelf whiskey was a social status to Japanese businessmen.
In the 1970s, the Japanese drinking culture became more diversified.
People looked for more reasonable alcohol drinks since Izakaya culture had been penetrating. Young people especially young women avoided drinking whiskey since they thought it was “Old-fashion” and “Old-men”, not a cool drink for the girls to get attention from bachelors.
Also, due to increasing the alcohol tax and the Chu-Hi boom, since the sale of whiskey had a peak in 1983, it had been declining rapidly.
This social phenomenon had enough to break down the whiskey’s social value as a status symbol.
However, whiskey began to revive due to the “whiskey and soda” boom in the 2000s.
A popular whiskey company has made a significant contribution to regaining whiskey sales. This is why “highball” refers to whiskey and soda in Japan.
Suntory’s Effort Toward The Whiskey Sales Revival
Suntory Holdings Limited is a Japanese multinational brewing and distillation company group.
Founded in 1899, it is one of the oldest liquor sales companies in Japan and manufactures Japanese whiskey.
Suntory has contributed to one of the top sales of Japanese whiskey products.
To get back the “whiskey” boom in Japan, this company has contributed to changing the stereotype of whiskey- the “old-fashion” drink.
Young people tend to like reasonable casual drinks such as beer, Chu-Hi, and Lemon sour, indeed, whiskey stereotypes were “old-fashion”, “middle-aged men(Ojisan)”, and “pricey”.
Also, whiskey reminded “on the rock” at a stylish bar, which kept far young people away.
Suntory launched the “whiskey highball” campaign to get young people to know more about whiskey.
Suntory focused on “Highball” which is known for making whiskey easy to drink at the start.
“Kaku” is a dry whiskey that goes well with soda and is also easy on the wallet, it was expected to become a casual drink like beer and chu-hi.
Then, using a beer mug for whiskey highball, Suntory made it a more casual and easy drink for young people.
“Kaku” is now popular whiskey for whiskey highball which is dry, smooth, and smokey, yet has a high-quality flavor as daily whiskey.
It was not an easy task to change whiskey stereotypes, the well-known TV commercial became a trigger for the big sales of “Kaku” and “Kaku highball” in 2009.
“Highball” was nominated in a trend ranking of the year in Japan, and it could be recognized as the “Highball” revival.
When you are lucky, you can find a “highball tower” Suntory developed the Highball maker for Izakayas and bars to serve the best KAKU highball all the time!
“Kaku bin”(角瓶) is the signature whiskey product of Suntory.
The name “Kaku bin” is from its unique patterned square-shaped bottle,
“Kaku”(角) means “square” in this term, and “Bin” means “a bottle”.
“Kaku bin” aka “Kaku” is well known as daily casual whiskey compared with famous top-shelf whiskey such as “Hibiki” “Taketsuru” and Yamazaki”.
Although it is known for daily whiskey at a reasonable price! Suntory Kaku has a rich, mellow sweet, and dry flavor.
As I said, Kaku has been well-known for being the best whiskey to make highball in Japan. So smooth but enough strong whiskey flavor.
Whisky Is Fatless, Carb-free, Sugarless
One of the reasons why highball has been so popular as a regular Izakaya drink is not only its refreshing taste but also as a low-cal & low-carb alcoholic drink.
Whiskey is distilled spirits like vodka, shochu, and gin, which do not contain sugar or very little sugar.
Besides, a highball is divided with carbonated water, so it can be low-calorie rather than “on the rock”.
|Types Of Alcohol||Calorie/ 100 g||Carbohydrates|
|Beer||40 kcal||3.1 g|
|Japanese Plum Wine||156 kcal||20.7g|
|Wine (White)||73 kcal||2.0 g|
|Wine (Red)||73 kcal||1.5 g|
|Japanese Sake||103 – 107 kcal||3.6 -4.5 g|
|Japanese Shochu||206 kcal||0 g|
|Whiskey||237 kcal||0 g|
|Brandy||237 kcal||0 g|
How To Make Highball Whiskey At Home
There are a few tips to make “Japanese-style” whiskey highball at home.
Prepare a highball glass (a thin wall is preferred), fresh lemon, ice (large-sized ice is preferred), and your choice of whiskey.
In Japan, we can get special large-sized ice made of natural water (soft water), but, now I live in the US, so make ice with purified water.
Personally, I don’t use top-shelf whiskey to make highball. (You know I mean…) Also, I prefer a less smokey flavor for the highball.
Find Your Favorite Whiskey
Japanese whiskey is made for the Japanese favorite taste, and you can enjoy a complex delicate flavor. Light mild finish.
- Black Nikka
- Fuji Sanroku
Bourbon whiskey (American)
Bourbon whiskey has a mellow sweet taste.
- four roses
- Jim Beam
- Maker’s mark
- Jack Daniel’s
- Old Claw
- I.H. harper
Scotch whiskey has the sweet and sour flavor of barley malt and the astringency and bitterness of barrel. The longer the aging period, the more mellow sweet flavor. It has a unique scent called “peaty”.
- Cutty Sark
- Talisker 10 years
- The Glenlivet 12 years
- Bowmore 12 years
Canadian whiskey is relatively easy to drink and suitable for whiskey beginners. Smooth, light, and no habits.
- Canadian Club 12 years
Irish whiskey has a strong grain flavor yet a smooth flavor without a smoky flavor.
Suntory’s Ultimate Highball Recipe
According to Suntory’s theory to make a perfect Highball,
- Fill a highball glass with ice (the large size is better)
- Add freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Pour whiskey up to 1/4-1/3 height of the glass. Pour whiskey along the wall.
- Pour gently slowly cold club soda/ carbonated water/ sparkling water along the wall.
- Stir once, do not stir well to avoid losing fizzy
Additional Tips From Professional Bartender
- Refrigerate a whiskey bottle or store it in a freezer to make the best highball.
- Refrigerate your choice of fizzy water as well.
- If possible, use ice made from purified water.
- Cool the glass stirring ice well before pouring whiskey. Change ice to new.
- Use smoked black pepper as a topping, you can find a new flavor.
The Best Ratio For Japanese Highball
The best ratio of Japanese highball is whiskey: Carbonated water = 1: 4. The alcohol content will be about 8%.
Of course, one of the attractions of highball is that you can enjoy it by adjusting the ratio to your liking.
If you like a strong one, you can make it with a ratio of whiskey 1: fizzy water 3. (the alcohol content will be 12%.)
The Best Carbonated Water For Japanese Highball
For the best result for Japanese highball, strong fizzy water is very important.
The Japanese highball lovers include me, we look for heavy bubbles in highball to quint our thirst.
Indeed, in Japan, you can see 2 types of carbonated water- strong fizzy (kyoutansan) or ordinal carbonated water.
I haven’t seen my favorite strong fizzy in the US, so I rely on SodaStream for my daily highball.
In my opinion, to make a “Highball” doesn’t have to be top-shelf whiskey.
Because I like to taste good whiskey as it is with straight or “on the rock.”
Another reason, I am frugal so I don’t want to use expensive whiskey for a mixed drink.
I always buy a daily whiskey (which means affordable price) for a “highball”.
But, it is your option.
Japanese Izakaya “Highball”
- 1 Thin highball glass
- 2 oz Your Choice of Whiskey *refrigerated
- 6-8 oz UNFLAVORED & UNSWEETENED club soda/ carbonated water/ sparkling water *refrigerated
- 1 Lemon wedge
- large-sized ice *made of purified water
- Fill the glass with ice, and stir them well to let cold the glass. Dump the ice and refill the glass with new ice.
- Add whiskey along the glass wall and stir well.
- Add ice cube if needed.
- Add freshly squeezed lemon juice.
- Add your choice of fizzy water gently and slowly along the wall to keep fizzy.
- Stir it ONCE to complete.
Make Whiskey Highball With Homemade Cola
Highball is the classic cocktail made of spirits and often carbonated water.
So, here is the homemade coke recipe to try after Japanese-style whiskey highball!
How To Order Highball at Izakayas In Japan
As I said, “Highball” refers to “Whiskey and soda” and it’s always found on the menu at Izakaya restaurants in Japan.
You can order just by telling a staff “highball, please”.
You may be asked which brand of whiskey is preferred when an Izakaya offers several kinds.
For example, Toris (TORISU, トリス), black Nikka (ブラックニッカ), and Jim beam are the most popular brand at the bottom price, and Kaku-Hi (角ハイ, the highball used Suntory Kaku) is also on the menu with the different price.
Personally, I like black nikka and Kaku, and will not order Toris ad Jim beam.
Toris is very light and smooth, no smokey flavor, so it is recommended for those who don’t like whiskey much.
I don’t like bourbon so much, so I don’t choose Jim beam.
Black nikka is also popular daily whiskey (cheaper than Kaku), and I like its dry and smoky flavor.
You can ask if making a strong one depends on Izakayas but some Izakayas offer the extra pay for it, or even they don’t have the option.
When you want to ask the strong whiskey highball, say “Koime(濃いめ), please”.
I tried to order “give me less water if you don’t offer stronger highball”, and they accepted but looks not so appreciated…
Isn’t it fun to know why highball became part of Japanese drinking culture?
It’s so refreshing with strong fizz and fresh lemon, and smokey whiskey flavor.
The happy news is low sugar!
“Highball” is one of the Japanese lifestyles as well as icy cold draft beer, Chu-Hi, and Lemon sour. why not try it during the dream Japan trip.
But don’t drink too much!
If you want to eat low-cal nibbles at Izakayas, read here!