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How 5 Insider secrets of “Japanese HighBall” Brings You To Know Japanese Culture

5 insider secrets if Japanese highball Food & Recipes
Food & Recipes
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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 “Whiskey highball.”

But in Japan, it refers to “whiskey highball” when the Japanese call just “high ball”, and indeed, it is a popular alcoholic drink as well as beer and Chu-Hi.

My first order is always Highball at Izakayas in Japan.
It’s like saying, there are three kinds of first-order for kanpai (cheers) at Izakaya- An icy cold Asahi-Kirin draft beer, Lemon Sour/Chu-Hi, or Highball.

Why “whiskey highball” is so popular even as the top menu on Izakayas in Japan?

It is not only because Japan is one of the countries that produce good whiskey.

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.

The Definition Of 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, spirits mixed with carbonated beverages.

For example, it is “highball” even mixed with a sweet liqueur and ginger ale.

Generally, a highball made of whiskey and soda is called “Whiskey Soda”.

Since highball is a kind of cocktail, you need to order what kind of highball you like to mix with what.

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

american old railways

Ball signals were commonly used on American railroads. When the ball was up, a train could proceed without stopping, and when the ball signal was down, it meant a train must stop at a station. A station officer who likes whiskey with soda often sipped it while working and often said loud “Highball” when he rose up the ball signal.

The drink, whiskey and soda began to call “Highball” because of the episode.

The Story From The Golf Club In Scotland

golf, scotland

A gentleman drinking whiskey and soda at a golf clubhouse and asked a bartender, “What kind of drink is this?” At that time, a golf ball just jumped into the clubhouse, and a bartender shouted, “Highball!” is the one of origin.

The Glory Of Whiskey Highball In Japan

Now, let’s talk about “Whiskey high ball” in Japan.

There is the behind story to the glory of the popular cocktail that the whiskey reputation was decreased after the peak in 1983.

Japanese whiskey, cigar, at a bar, at a counter, keep a whiskey bottle at a bar is social status in Japan

Whiskey began to spread in Japan after World War II. With more economic development, whiskey was rapidly gaining popularity. In fact, having top-shelf whiskey was a social status for Japanese businessmen. The Japanese economic development brought whiskey culture to become popular as a status symbol.

In the 1970s, the Japanese whiskey culture became more diversified, and people preferred easy-to-drink such as “whiskey with water” rather than straight and on the rock.

Since the peak of the Japanese whiskey market in 1983, sales had been declining rapidly due to price increases due to the tax increase and the trend of Chu-Hi. These reasons had enough to undermine its value as a status symbol for whiskey. Moreover, it created a vicious cycle that leads to further declines in sales of whiskey.

Also, Whiskey highball was old-fashion for young people.

However, whiskey began to revival its reputation due to the boom of “whiskey and soda” which became a turning point in the latter of the 2000s.

Whiskey and soda called just “Highball” in Japan and was originally popular in the 1950s- 1960s as a style that made whiskey with a high alcohol content easier for Japanese people to drink. After that, it had been down for a long time, but the aggressive campaign by domestic whiskey makers was also successful, and the highball boom came again.

Suntory’s Effort Toward The Whiskey Sales Revival

suntory, headquarter office, tokyo

Suntory has been contributed as one of the top sales of Japanese whiskey products.

Behind the “highball” boom in Japan, Suntory had used the dramatic effort to remove the stereotype – highball was an “old-fashin” drink.

First, the company launched the campaigns of “whiskey highball” to get young people to know more about whiskey.

As one of the strategies, Suntory tried to get young people’s attention for whiskey. Suntory focused on “Highball” which is the easy drink as the start point of whiskey. “Kaku” is a dry whiskey that goes well with soda and is also easy to 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 more casual and easy-drink for young people.

Beyond many failures, 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.


suntory, kaku, kakubin, whiskey

 *Wikipedia; サントリー角瓶 |Source=本人撮影 |Date=2010-11-21 |Author=Kuha455405 |Permission= |other_versions= }} Category:Suntory Category:Whisky from Japan

“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.

Divas Love Low-Calorie, Low-Carb, Sugar-Free

whiskey highball in Japan, whiskey, suntory, Japanese drink

One of the reasons why highball has been so popular as a regular Izakaya drink is not only its refreshing taste but also a low-cal & low-carb alcoholic drink for people who care about diet but want to enjoy alcohol.

Whiskey Is Free Of Carbs And Sugar

Carbohydrates and sugars are also found in beer and wine, but not in whiskey.
Carbohydrates are digested into sugars, which are the source of energy, and when taken too much, they are stored as fat in the body.
Whiskey does not contain sugar or very little sugar, so highball can be preferable to drinking while on a diet compared to other alcoholic beverages such as beer.

Therefore, highball that alcohol content becomes lower than itself by mixing carbonated water (zero sugar) will not contain sugar, so it is suitable for people who count carbs and sugar.

To compare with calories between draft beer and highball,

Types Of Alcohol Calorie/ 100 gCarbohydrates
Beer40 kcal3.1 g
Japanese Plum Wine156 kcal20.7g
Wine (White)73 kcal2.0 g
Wine (Red)73 kcal1.5 g
Japanese Sake103 – 107 kcal3.6 -4.5 g
Japanese Shochu206 kcal0 g
Whiskey237 kcal0 g
Brandy237 kcal0 g

You can see that whiskey does not contain carbohydrates. Mixing unsweetened carbonated water or soda water can reduce the calories of the alcohol itself.

So, a glass of highball will be low in calories and free of carbohydrates compared to a canned/bottled/glass of beer and a glass of wine.

Choose Healthy Nibbles And Eat Smart

If you want nibbles while drinking highball, better avoid food rich in carbs and sugar.

By drinking alcohol, energy is used to decompose alcohol, and when those ingredients become fat without being metabolized and will be stock in your body.

The key to maintaining your motivation for weight loss while enjoying alcohol is,

  • What you should be careful about is not calories but “sugar”
  • Beer, sake, white wine, and plum wine are high in sugar
  • People on a weight loss choose whiskey, shochu, gin, and other distilled liquors
  • Follow the rules such as “drink a lot of water”, “take magnesium”, and “choose healthy snacks”.

Japanese Highball At Home

make own high ball, my mom's homey dinner

*A dinner at my house in Japan with my own highball

According to Suntory’s theory to make a perfect Highball,

  1. Fill a highball glass with ice cubes (the large size is better.)
  2. Squeeze fresh lemon juice
  3. Add whiskey until 1/3 to 1/4 of a glass
  4. To complete, add gently cold soda water (carbonated water or sparkling water)
  5. Stir once, do not stir much due to avoid losing fizz
Additional Tips From Proffecional
  • Keep a whiskey bottle in a refrigerator or a freezer to make the best highball.
  • Use cold carbonated water as well.
  • Use natural pure water ice cubes
  • After filling a glass with an ice cube and pour whiskey, stir well to make whiskey cold. Then, add ice cubes to make a glass filled again.
  • 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

Strong Fizzy!

For the best result of 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.

whiskey highball in Japan, whiskey, suntory, Japanese drink

Japanese Izakaya "Highball"

Very popular Izakaya drink in Japan- Whiskey and Soda
Course Drinks
Cuisine Japanese


  • A highball glass


  • 1 - 1.5 oz Whiskey chilled
  • Natural pure ice
  • Carbonated water or club soda chilled
  • 1 Lemon wedge


  • Fill the glass with ice cubes.
  • Add whiskey and stir well.
  • Add ice cubes if needed.
  • Add carbonated water or soda gently to keep bubbles.
  • Stir it ONCE to complete.
Keyword Alcohol

How To Order Highball at Izakayas In Japan

today's phrase 7

As I said, “Highball” refers to “Whiskey highball” in Japan which is so popular as an Izakaya drink. and you can enjoy “highball” at Izakayas without a problem.

I have never been at Izakayas where don’t have “whiskey highball”.

I have never been to Izakayas where don’t have “whiskey highball”, but 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 in the bottom of price, and Kaku-Hi (角ハイ, the highball used Suntory Kaku) is also on the menu at most of Izakaya restaurants.

today's phrase 8

You can ask 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”.


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 lifestyle 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!


• Japanese Shochu

• Japanese Beer

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