Speaking of the staple way of drinking whiskey in Japan is Whiskey highball.
Especially in the hot summertime, it’s going to be the nice refreshment as well as icy cold draught beer.
My first order is always Highball at Izakayas in Japan.
You may get wondered why you see “whiskey highball” on the menu at Izakayas in Japan.
“Whiskey Highball” is the staple drink as well as beer in Japanese drinking culture.
It is not because Japan is one of the countries produce good whiskey.
Why “Whiskey Highball” became a popular drink in Japan?
I am going to tell you the hidden story about it,
well, it is not hidden, in case you don’t know and are interested in the story.
In general across the world, the cocktail called “highball”, is not only based on whiskey but also any liqueur, sprits mixed with carbonated beverages.
For example, a sweet liqueur mixed with cola is sometimes called a highball.
Also, a cocktail made of whiskey and soda is called “Whiskey Soda”.
It is quite different in Japan, “Highball” commonly refers to “Whiskey soda”.
The Origins of “Highball”
There are several theories told about the origin of the term “highball” all over the world, and two of them have been disputed for a long time.
The story from American Railways
No.1; As the American railroad system in the 19th century, when a signal post with a ball on the tip was raised a train could pass through without stopping at the station.
What happened during the stop was that the conductors started drinking whiskey, and then they drank up their whiskey after pouring plenty of soda when the ball went up.
No.2; The station master was drinking bourbon while checking the signal post at the office with a telescope. When the ball goes up (when the ball goes high), the train arrives at the station, so he had to fill his glass with soda to drink up quickly to run to the station.
The drink, whiskey and soda began to call “Highball” because of the episode.
The story from the golf club in Scotland
One day, a player was drinking a glass of whiskey at the golf club while waiting for his turn.
Unexpectedly, his turn came so he mixed with soda to drink up instantly.
He could hit the ball higher than before he had whiskey and soda, so people started to call “Highball” it.
The Glory of Highball
In Japan, the “highball” boom was around 1950, but “whiskey high ball” brought a stereotype with a drink for “middle-aged man”- “Oji san” in Japanese.
As the middle-aged patrons had started retiring and disappeared from the town, the boom was gone for a while.
Moreover, the popularity of whiskey has a peak in 1983.
Suntory, as you know, the famous Japanese whiskey brewery.
“Oji san” (おじさん) drink, a highball got trending around 2007 due to the company’s dramatic effort.
Suntory had work hard to get Whiskey’s popularity back to the market and launched campaigns of “whiskey highball” to get young people known more whiskey.
Today, everyone knows the TV commercial of Suntroy’s Kaku highball which has been on TV since 2007, and it made “Suntory Kaku highball” the staple highball.
The highball caught young people’s hearts because
Not only as of the refreshment but also as low-cal & low-carb alcoholic drink.
Whiskey is a distilled liquor known as sugar-free and also Highball is mixed with zero cal & non-sugar carbonated water.
It is the perfect drink for alcoholic young girls and middle-aged people who care about muffin tops.
To compare with calories between draft beer and highball,
- Draft beer (1 medium mug): 145 kcal
- Highball: 70 Kcal
For reference only. The amount and calories vary depending on the store.
The epidemic has still been going on, with new alcoholic drinks for young people, nostalgic alcoholic drinks for”Oji san”.
“Kaku bin”(角瓶) is the signature whiskey product of Suntory.
The name of “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 casual daily whiskey rather than luxury whiskey such as “Hibiki” “Taketsuru” and Yamazaki”, but its smokey flavor has been loved even today.
Make Own High Ball
*A dinner at my house in Japan with my own highball
According to Suntory’s official way to make a perfect Highball,
- Put plenty of ice in a glass and squeeze fresh lemon juice
- Pour a whiskey about 1/3 to 1/4 of a glass
- To complete, add gently cold soda water (carbonated water or sparkling water)
- Stir once, do not stir much due to avoid losing fizz
To make Japanese highball, heavy fizzy water is very important.
In Japan, you can see 2 types of carbonated water which are heavy fizz carbonated water or regular fizzy water in stores.
I use “Soda Stream” at home, I can make strong carbonated water instantly.
The Japanese drinking style is drinking alcoholic beverages with meals.
At home, at Izakayas, many dishes are known as going well with high balls.
Here are Rico’s Japanese cooking recipes for high balls.
In my opinion, to make a “Highball” shouldn’t have to be good whiskey.
Good whiskey is better drinking straight. (with ice 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.
Order at Izakayas
You can enjoy “highball” at Izakayas,
I have never been at Izakayas where don’t have “whiskey highball”.
Generally, there isn’t an option or just a few options to choose a brand at regular Izakayas,
but you can order your favorite whiskey highball at bars.
You can ask making stronger more depends on Izakayas but some Izakayas offer the extra pay for it, or they don’t have the option.
When you want to ask the stronger whiskey highball, say “Koime(濃いめ), please”.
*But “Koime” doesn’t mean double shot.
Isn’t it fun to know why the highball became in the part of Japanese drinking culture?
It’s so refresh with strong fizz and fresh lemon, and smokey whiskey flavor.
The happy news is low-calorie!
“Highball” is one of Japanese lifestyle, 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!
• Japanese Syochu
• Japanese Beer