Monday, August 29, 2011

Japan Loves Its Highballs.

I’m mystified by the current highball craze in Japan. Rather, since I neither speak nor read Japanese, I should say I am mystified by what I’ve read in English about the current highball craze in Japan.

Back in June, Camper English introduced America to Mizuwari, the Japanese highball ritual. First you put ice in a glass and stir to glaze the glass. Then discard any water and add about 1 ½ ounces of whiskey. Stir that 13 ½ times clockwise, fill with soda water and stir another 3 ½ times, also clockwise.

They also sell canned highballs in Japan, so obviously not everyone takes them so seriously.

But this idea that the highball is whiskey and soda water over ice, period, is still a little too particular for me, here in the highball’s country of origin.

In American drinking culture, ‘highball’ is (or was, as this is somewhat archaic usage) just another synonym for ‘drinky-poo.’

It developed at a time when most people drank whiskey of some sort and most drank it diluted in some way, usually just with water. In the old days, most gentle folk liked to take their time getting drunk. The tall glass that is typically used for this simple mixture is called a highball so the drink, such as it is, came to be called a highball too. You could say "whiskey and water," but "a highball, please" would usually get you the same thing.

It’s similar to the Southern habit of referring to any soft drink as ‘Coke.’ If ‘highball’ means anything more than just ‘a drink,’ it means a drink in which whiskey is cut with water, a definition that ultimately was broadened to include ice, sparking water, club soda, ginger ale, lemon-lime soda, and a twist of lemon peel as garnish.

The highball is the un-fussiest of drinks, a distilled spirits version of beer. That’s why it seems wrong to ritualize it. But I’m broad minded about drinking. Do what pleases you.

English also observes that the typical Japanese highball is made with blended whiskey, either Japanese or scotch. The highball as I have described may be made with any whiskey you like, from anyplace. The one I'm drinking right now is Very Old Barton Bourbon, BIB, with lemon-lime soda, and ice, stirred about five times, but really fast, and not so much clockwise as back and forth. I apologize in advance.


Mr. Manhattan said...

I believe that originally "ball" was a synonym for a "drink/glass of whisky" (circa 1898) and a "highball" named as such because the glass was relatively tall.

Strokr n' Acye said...

Chuck - if you are drinking a highball at 5:00am you are a hell of a man. At that time of day, I can barely drink my coffee.