Highball Expectations

There's an art to making this Japanese whisky-based refresher

Zuma barman SeongHa Lee prepares a Toki Whisky Highball. Photo Anthony Mair

If the gin and tonic is the ubiquitous refresher of Spain, then the Japanese Highball is what’s wetting Japan’s   whistle—and in both countries you will find bars entirely dedicated to their utter perfection. You’ll also find a great specimen wherever Las Vegas barman SeongHa Lee is slinging. Lee worked at a Suntory Whisky bar in Osaka, Japan, long before coming to Las Vegas to tend at Downtown’s 365 Tokyo, Mandarin Bar on the Strip and now Zuma in The Cosmopolitan.

While the highball—whiskey mixed with club soda over ice in a tall glass—is not featured on Zuma’s cocktail menu, Lee will hand-chip crystal-clear ice from a hulking block and combine the whiskey of your choosing (try Toki, Suntory’s latest expression, for $14) with Fever Tree club soda. It couldn’t sound simpler, but the highball is serious business.

When making a highball, Suntory Whisky ambassador Johnnie Mundell would have you pay special attention to the water—both the ice and club soda. The goal is to preserve the carbonation of this refreshing drink in every way by starting with a glass free of soap residue. Ensure that the ice is crystal-clear and smooth-surfaced (no bubbles or cracks)—all the better not to trap those beautiful bubbles or overdilute!—and select a high-quality club soda.

“Toki was created for the bartending community, to say ‘thank you’ for helping to build the Suntory name in the United States,” Mundell says. “It was created with the mindset of a Japanese whisky, which is the maximum depth of flavor and refinement, and the highball is an amazing way to enjoy this.”

The Perfect Japanese Highball
As prepared by SeongHa Lee at Zuma

Step 1: Fill a clean Collins glass with large, clear ice cubes and stir to chill; strain and discard any resulting water, or discard both and refill with fresh cubes or a single ice spear.

Step 2: Add 1½ ounces of Japanese whisky; stir exactly 13½ clockwise revolutions.

Step 3: Gently pour high-quality soda water down the side of the glass directly into the whisky, touching the ice as little as possible (tilt the glass if need be), and stir exactly 3½ more clockwise revolutions for a total of 17. (Prefer still water to sparkling? Ask for a Japanese Whisky “Mizuwari,” where the spirit has been “split” with water.)