“Thanks for coming early,” Johnnie Mundell said, handing us two NEAT glasses with amber whiskey. Hibiki 17 year old from Suntory of Japan. Hibiki means ‘Harmony’ in Japanese, and the 17 year old is arguably the finest offering from the 93 year old firm.
Harmony, indeed. Mundell, along with Mixologist SeongHa Lee, was presenting a seminar on the latest from Suntory, Whisky Toki, made with a blending process that represents the Suntory organization in an exceptional (and harmonious) product. Toki is blended from whiskys produced in three of Suntory’s distilleries: Hakushu, Chita and Yamazaki. Each distillery’s offering was sampled before the Toki was tasted. Hakushu, aged in American White Oak, represent the floral and fruity notes in the blend. Chita adds viscous filler, while two Yamazaki malts with red oak aging add the bottom spice. Toki is quite different from the more traditional Suntory whiskys, which are generally dependent on Yamazaki ingredients.
Toki is designed primarily for Highball use. Highballs are extremely popular in Japan and generally consist of 3 ingredients: spirit, mixer, and ice. The term is generally thought to be train related, as ‘highballing’ may be related to steam output or an early railroad signal concerning clear tracks ahead. Whatever the case, Highballs are generally light and refreshing, and excellent to serve at cocktail parties or meals. Think of drinking and hydrating at the same time.
The Japanese have a strong belief in the beauty of imperfection, or wabi-sabi. The pursuit of perfection is therefore something that is innate in the culture. The presentation from SeongHa Lee exemplified such a pursuit of perfection, allowing participants to make their own Toki-based Highballs using different mixers and ice. The making of a highball changed from bartending to ceremony in an instant.
Making a Proper Toki Highball:
The ingredients for the presentation were as follows:
Ice- Regular Ice vs. Slow Freeze Clear Ice
Mixer- Canada Dry Club Soda vs. Fever-Tree Club Soda
Results: As usual, the maxim of using the best quality ingredients applies. Maintaining the carbonation of the club soda is directly related to the flavor of the Highball. Better club soda=Better carbonation. Smoother ice-Less loss of carbonation. All of the highballs were quite enjoyable- but the premium highball (clear ice & Fever-Tree Club Soda) was an eye opener. Refreshing, cold, and full-bodied.
A few general rules:
- Use a highball glass. Make sure all glassware is super clean. Soap residue ruins Highballs.
- Chill the glass with ice. Keeping the glass cold reduces loss of carbonation.
- Remove ice. Add clear ice. Allow the ice to warm slightly at room temperature to reduce roughness; bubbles form on rough surfaces resulting in a loss of carbonation. Ice should fill 25% of the glass.
- Add 1.5 oz Toki Whisky (or to taste). Stir 12.5 times. Stirring 13 times will result in disqualification. Maybe.
- Add three times spirits volume of mixer (~4.5 oz) down the side of the glass. Pouring over the ice will result in a loss of carbonation. Stir 2.5 more times.
Adding a bit more intrigue to the ceremony/process, two styles of Highballs were described. Once again, the emphasis is on maintaining the carbonation of the drink.
KOBE STYLE: No ice used. All ingredients are chilled and mixed in a chilled glass.
NINJA STYLE: Uses clear ice cubes. Why ninja? Because the ice is invisible in the glass when mixer is poured.
As Mundell states, “Suntory will spend their entire life in pursuit of perfection.” Enjoy your pursuit.
Want a proper Highball but can't measure liquids? Momofuku in Las Vegas has proper Suntory Highballs on draft. I would suggest picking up your own bottle ($36.99 at Total Wine) and do some experimentation. A highball in summertime sounds fantastic. But why wait?
The Suntory event was part of Xania Woodman's Now Drink This LIVE!, a series of events where hand-selected industry experts immerse attendees in all bottled things great and wonderful. Stay tuned for the announcement of the 2017 schedule.