Highballin’ in Japan

Something a little bit different for this scotch aficionado…

Highballs. As a self-proclaimed purist who typically drinks her whisky neat, or occasionally with ice or a dash of water, the idea of adding a mixer to my dram has never really appealed to me. But a recent trip to Japan— the home of the whisky highball— has forced me to admit that there may be more to mixers than I previously thought.

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Morikarou Highball on the deck at Hakushu Distillery

A “highball” is the generic name for a drink made up of spirit mixed with a large proportion of a non-alcoholic carbonated mixer. Gin and tonic is a highball. So too is rum and coke. But in Japan the highball of choice is whisky and soda. As with most mixed drinks, the origins of the whisky highball are unclear and many different bartenders and venues claim bragging rights for its invention. What is clear, however, is that despite being around for decades the whisky highball’s popularity persists unabated in Japan. In my visits to various bars and restaurants across Tokyo I found the whisky highball pretty much everywhere – it was even available in vending machines and from the refreshment cart on the train. Occasionally they would change things up and add shochu (a local spirit) but more often than not the highballs were made up of a light, floral Japanese whisky mixed with soda water. This kind of highball is very refreshing on a hot day and goes down exceptionally well with a variety of izakaya food, including yakitori, grilled meats, pickled vegetables and edamame. When the world flocks to Tokyo for the Olympics in 2020 I foresee a global spike of interest in this popular local beverage.

hakushu
Hakushu Distillery in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan

Although I enjoyed a number of different whisky highballs in my trip, a particularly memorable experience was visiting Hakushu Distillery and learning firsthand from a Japanese whisky producer about what the highball format can add to the experience of whisky. As part of my tour at the Hakushu Distillery (stay tuned for a post in the near future about this) they taught us how to both make and appreciate what they called their “Morikarou Highball”: a drink made with Hakushu whisky, soda water, lots of ice and a sprig of mint. They explained that the idea behind this highball is to bring out the fresher flavours of the whisky – think pear, apple, cucumber and citrus notes. The carbonation means these flavours waft pleasantly, tickling your olfactory senses but with none of the alcoholic “burn” that can be off-putting to some people. The Morikarou Highball is also designed to be eaten alongside a wide variety of different foods, and apparently works well with anything that is smoked (duck, bacon, fish), pickled or creamy (apricot and cream cheese was suggested but personally I’m not sold on this one).

lets make

So, how do you make the perfect Morikarou Highball?

  • To start you will need a tall or Collins glass.
  • Fill the glass to the very top with lots of ice and allow it to chill the glass for a few moments.
  • Pour in one part whisky. I think it’s certainly worth trying it with Hakushu Distillers Reserve or Hakushu 12 Year Old but any lighter or sweeter style of whisky would be a good substitute.
  • Stir the glass ten times – no more and no less!
  • Add more ice to the glass until it is full again.
  • Add three parts soda and give it one final stir.
  • Lightly crush a mint sprig by clapping your cupped palms around it to release the aroma. Use it to garnish the drink
  • Enjoy and kanpai! (Quick note: whilst toasting in Japan don’t use the Italian “chin chin” because it sounds like “penis” to locals!)

As you know, when I am not on holiday I am based in Perth, Western Australia. Summer temperatures here regularly push past 35 degrees Celsius. Despite my whisky “purism” I think that as the mercury rises I might find myself reaching for the soda water and ice to provide some much-needed refreshment with my whisky fix. Let me know your thoughts on how you enjoy your highballs below!

Brainstorming Boilermakers

Welcome to the weekend!

I have only recently come to love boilermakers, which is surprising given my longstanding love of both good beer and good whisky. Over the last six months or so I have had some excellent boilermaker experiences. Firstly, I visited a bar called Boilermaker House in Melbourne which lives up to its moniker by having an entire section of their menu devoted to boilermakers. Secondly, my husband’s brother gifted him a selection of boilermakers for his birthday: three miniatures of scotch and three bottles of beer, all carefully paired. Finally, when I visited Orkney the distillery manager at Highland Park let us in on her favourite boilermaker pairing involving their whisky. I tried it that same night, and it was VERY good. I’ve included it below.

So what is a “boilermaker”? When referring to drinks and not people-who-make-boilers, the term boilermaker can mean a variety of different things and so a little explanation is in order. In parts of the UK a boilermaker means a mixture of half a pint of draught and half a pint of brown ale. By contrast, a traditional American boilermaker involves shotting a dram of whisky in a single gulp and then drinking a beer. An alternative boilermaker approach is to drop a dram of whisky (with or without shot glass) into a beer, and then drinking them both together.

Now I am a big proponent of each to their own when it comes to drinks. You want to add ice to your whisky? Go right ahead. A splash of coke? Not my style, but sure. Dropping your whisky into your beer? No worries. Life is simply too short to have others dictate to you how to enjoy your drink. That said, my own favourite way to enjoy a boilermaker is to drink a dram of whisky and a glass of beer side-by-side: no shotting or mixing, just alternating between sipping the two as and when I feel like it. This seems to be the current style of boilermaker in Australia at least.

The crucial part of putting together a good boilermaker in this style is the pairing of whisky and beer. To me, a perfect pairing involves;

  • A beer and a whisky you are happy to drink by themselves
  • Complementary flavor profiles, like a smoky dark beer and a smoky peated whisky. For example, you wouldn’t pair a stout and a light, floral whisky.
  • Trying to pair standout flavours. Spiced bacon notes in a bourbon are likely to match really well with similar notes in a dark craft beer, fruity notes in a Lowlands whisky are likely to match well with a light ale or a saison and so on.

Based on these criteria, and my own personal experience, here are a few favourites:

oogy and feral

Ardbeg Uigeadail + Feral Smoked Porter

The smoky porter with dark chocolate notes matches well with the peat in the whisky. Both have flavours of smoked bacon.

kaiju and caribbean cask

The Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask + Kaiju Crush! Tropical Pale

The pale has a bit of hoppy bitterness but mellows out with summery pineapple flavours. Their shared tropical fruit characteristics take you to an island paradise.

 

Highland Park 12 Year Old + Swanney Brewery Scapa Special

Light, easy to knock back, both have a lovely balanced sweetness with citrus notes.

Feel free to leave your suggested boilermaker pairings in the comments section. Happy drinking!