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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: highballs

Cocktail of the Week: The Hokkaido Highball

This week on Master of Malt, we’re celebrating all things Highball-shaped, that most versatile of cocktails. In particular, we’re making a special version with Nikka Days Japanese whisky called the…

This week on Master of Malt, we’re celebrating all things Highball-shaped, that most versatile of cocktails. In particular, we’re making a special version with Nikka Days Japanese whisky called the Hokkaido Highball.

The Highball is a very broad church. It simply refers to a cocktail made from a spirit diluted with some kind of fizzy liquid. So a G&T is a kind of Highball, as is a Horse’s Neck and a Cuba Libre. But when most people think of a Highball, it tends to be a mixture of whisky, ice and soda.

What is a Highball?

The word originated in America in the late 19th century during the golden age of cocktails. Sadly, like everything else from this period, its origins are murky. Perhaps because of all the cocktails that people were drinking at the time. Apparently, the word ‘ball’ used to mean a slug of whisky in the glass and ‘high’ because the glass is tall. Or it might have something to do with steam engines – apparently ‘highballing’ means the locomotive was at full steam.

Until recently, the word had become rather archaic, like a Rickey or a Cobbler. Having a Highball before lunch belonged to a generation who came of age before the Second World War. My grandmother had a whisky and soda every day at 12 noon, and she lived to be 94.

But now Highballs are back with trendy bars around the world having lists of different ones. The revival came from Japan where they know a thing or two about taking other people’s inventions and making them just a bit better. Japanese bars elevated this simple mixture of ice, water and whisky to an art form. In some, the whisky and soda were pre-mixed, and came out of a tap. Not sure my grandmother would approve.

Nikka Days Highball 2 credit photo Joann Pai (1)

A Highball can be as simple as this

Bartenders love Highballs

The reason bartenders love Highballs is their sheer versatility. You can start with a simple mixture of whisky and soda water, and then customise it. Try adding an citrus twist, and a dash of fruit bitters. From there you can experiment with syrups, vermouth and all manner of things. Last year, Johnnie Walker released a series of bottled Highballs in conjunction with Indian restaurant Brigadiers in London. They contained all kinds of exciting ingredients like oolong tea, Amontillado sherry and mango, the most exotic of all the fruits. 

But if you’re making a classic Highball, the most important ingredient is the whisky. My grandmother wouldn’t touch anything except Famous Grouse. Woe betide you if you reached for the J&B or, worse still, a single malt. But actually some malts can be great mixed with soda water. I’m particularly partial to Talisker 10 Year Old with orange peel, soda and orange bitters. The things to avoid are very old whiskies with lots of wood and sherry, but then you’re hardly going to use your 25 year old Glenfarclas to make a Highball.

As you’d expect, the Japanese are pretty good at producing Highball-friendly blends. For this week’s cocktail, I’m using Nikka Days to make a Hokkaido Highball. It’s named after the island where Nikka’s founder Masataka Taketsuru built his first distillery, Yoichi. However, this was one of the products in the Nikka range that was reclassified earlier this year as it doesn’t conform to the new Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association regulations. So it seems more than likely that it contains imported whisky. What we do know is that it’s light, fruity, creamy and delicious. In other words, a perfect Highball blend.

We’re accentuating its citrussy side with Something & Nothing Yuzu Seltzer but if you want to keep things simple, just use soda water and give it a squeeze of grapefruit, lemon or orange, and drop the piece in. Nothing is more refreshing on a hot summer’s day.

How to make a Hokkaido Highball

50ml Nikka Days
100ml Something & Nothing Yuzu Seltzer

Pour whisky into a tall glass filled with large ice cubes. Top up with seltzer. Stir, and garnish with a slice of lemon.

Join us for our Highball Champions live tasting on the 12 August at 7pm (BST) with special guests from Nikka Days, Brenne, That Boutique-y Whisky Company, and Mijenta Tequila. Click here to join us on YouTube on the day.

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Come and join us for Scotch & Sofa!

** MISSED OUT ON SCOTCH & SOFA?** Don’t panic! You can still snap up a set and taste along with the action by clicking right here. Pining for whisky festivals?…

** MISSED OUT ON SCOTCH & SOFA?** Don’t panic! You can still snap up a set and taste along with the action by clicking right here.

Pining for whisky festivals? Us too. But fear not! Join us on Saturday 5 September for the ultimate virtual whisky festival: it’s Scotch & Sofa!

Nothing beats the vibe of a whisky festival. Old friends, new faces, and oodles of new drams to be discovered (responsibly of course!). One of the (many, let’s say) downsides to the current, ahem, unusual situation is the lack of whisky festivals. But never fear. We’re here to save that aspect of summer with Scotch & Sofa!

We’ve teamed up with our friends at Diageo to bring you the ultimate virtual whisky festival. We’ve put together a full-day fiesta of all things whisky. Get set for eight sessions, filled to the brim with delicious drams and ace folks, streaming live on Facebook. You’ll even be able to nab a tasting set to really immerse yourself in all things festival.

Charge the tasting glasses!

Pour a dram and tune in

Yes! From 12pm on Saturday 5 September, we’ve got an action-packed programme of tastings, chats and general fun and frivolity, and you’ll be able to join from the comfort of your sofa. 

Each 45-minute session will see a group of experts explore a theme, with three different samples specially picked for the occasion. Seven of the eight sessions have a specially curated tasting set too – snap one up and you’ll be all set to take part! But you’ll need to be quick; there’s only a limited number of each available. 

Missed out? Never fear! Just check out our Facebook page, and you’ll be able to follow all the fun of the festival. Pour one of your favourite drams and join in the chat anyway. Everyone is welcome!

Scotch & Sofa

It’s the ultimate virtual whisky festival. Get set for Scotch and Sofa!

The all-important programme

So what has Scotch & Sofa got in store? Here’s how the day is shaping up. 

Scotch & Sofa

12pm: Ghost & Rare Distilleries

And we kick off proceedings with something really special indeed! TJ Littlejohn, malt whisky ambassador, Colin Dunn, whisky ambassador, and Ewan Gunn, global whisky master, join our editor, Kristiane Sherry, to taste through Johnnie Walker Blue Label – Ghost & Rare Glenury Royal, Johnnie Walker Blue Label – Ghost & Rare Port Ellen and Caol Ila Unpeated 15 Year Old from the 2018 Special Release collection. Exceptional stuff all round. 

Nab a tasting set here.

Scotch & Sofa

1pm: Campfire at Skye

Can’t travel this summer? No problem! We’re taking a trip to the stunning Isle of Skye through the medium of our tasting glasses, and a Talisker exploration. Join Jason Clark, Talisker brand ambassador, Diane Farrell, distillery manager, and our very own campaigns manager, Laura Carl, as they indulge in and discuss Talisker 10 Year Old, Talisker 18 Year Old, and Talisker Port Ruighe.

Get your tasty ticket to Skye here.

Scotch & Sofa

2pm: Boat Trip to Islay

The island-hopping continues! This time, TJ, Colin Dunn, Pierrick Guillaume, Caol Ila distillery manager, and Henry Jeffreys, our features editor, check out the spoils of two great Islay distilleries: Lagavulin and Caol Ila. The line-up features Lagavulin 16 Year Old, the wonderful Lagavulin 8 Year Old, and Caol Ila Unpeated 15 Year Old from Special Release 2018. 

All aboard with the Boat Trip to Islay tasting sets here!

Scotch & Sofa

3pm: Johnnie Walker Deconstructed 

Partial to a drop of Johnnie Walker? Intrigued by how the constituent parts of a blend come together for the finished product? Wonder no more! Ali Reynolds, luxury Reserve brand ambassador, Tom Jones, global Scotch whisky ambassador, Emma Walker, Johnnie Walker master blender, and our editor Kristiane Sherry delve behind the scenes and into the secrets of Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old, through Cardhu 12 Year Old and Caol Ila 12 Year Old!

Grab your component parts with a tasting set right here.

Scotch & Sofa

4pm: The Ultimate Johnnie Walker Tasting Experience

If you enjoy the finer whiskies in life, then this trio of tantalizing blends will be right up your street. Join Ali Reynolds, Georgie Crawford, Port Ellen distillery manager, Jim Beveridge, Johnnie Walker master blender, and Kristiane Sherry as they jump right into some of the most decadent bottlings to be found under the Johnnie Walker name. Drams include The John Walker King George V, The John Walker, and Johnnie Walker Blue Label!

You can find the ultimate tasting set here!

Scotch & Sofa

5pm: Before & After: Lower proof serves and small plates

We reckon we’ll be up for a bit of a snack by this point, so it’s perfect timing for Lauren Mote, Diageo’s global cocktailian, and Mark Moriarty, global gastronomer, to take over! They’ll be celebrating the spirit of Scotland in digestif and aperitif form, with accompanying small plates. Featured whiskies include Talisker and Johnnie Walker Gold! Prepare to be inspired. 

Scotch & Sofa

6pm: Mixing Whisky: Highballs

What’s easy peasy, extra delicious, and all-round extraordinary? The great whisky Highball! Don’t believe us? Then tune in to see TJ, Ervin Trykowski, global Scotch whisky ambassador for The Singleton, Ali Reynolds and Laura Carl celebrate and generally revel in the finest of whisky serves (we’re not biased at all…). Whiskies include Talisker Skye, Singleton of Dufftown 12 Year Old, and Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old. Delightful!

Grab your Highball whisky set right here!

Scotch & Sofa

7pm: Speyside Flora and Fauna

We wrap up the Scotch & Sofa festivities with a session devoted to the love of Speyside, and a dip into the delicious Flora and Fauna series. TJ, Colin Dunn, Jason Clark and Henry Jeffreys will sip and savour Benrinnes 15 Year Old, Dailuaine 16 Year Old, and Linkwood 12 Year Old, while reminiscing about the magic of Speyside. Come join in!

Pick up a tasting set here.

Phew! What a day. Grab a tasting set (or two), ready the glassware, charge the laptop, and join us on 5 September over at Master of Malt’s Facebook. We can’t wait to see you!

 

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Master of Malt tastes… Johnnie Walker whisky highballs

We tried the exclusive new collection of bottled Johnnie Walker whisky Highballs with Johnnie Walker’s whisky ambassador Ali Reynolds and discussed the role this simple but sublime serve will play…

We tried the exclusive new collection of bottled Johnnie Walker whisky Highballs with Johnnie Walker’s whisky ambassador Ali Reynolds and discussed the role this simple but sublime serve will play in the future of the spirit.

“Whisky has been quite a tired category for a while and it’s been aimed at men of a certain age for a long time. We were telling people how to drink it in terms of ‘you can only add a dash of water’ or ‘maybe one ice cube’,” says Ali Reynolds, whisky ambassador for Johnnie Walker. “There are all these flavours within the Scotch category and we should be exploring them more in cocktails. I’m always asking why isn’t whisky one of the biggest spirits on more cocktail lists? Brigadiers have been brave enough to stock four pre-bottled whisky sodas and it’s just a great way to get people into Scotch. We need to relax that conversation. Talk less about Scotch, talk more about the flavours within it”.

We’ve met to talk about the whisky Highball and its potential to bring new drinkers to the whisky category at Brigadiers, an Indian restaurant and bar in the City of London inspired by the army mess bars of India where military regiments eat, drank and socialise. It’s recently launched a series of four Highballs which are carbonated and bottled in-house made with various types of Johnnie Walker. 

Johnnie Walker as a brand is all over cocktails. The distillery’s website has a dedicated cocktail section that and a quote: “The mark of a truly great whisky is its versatility and even when mixed”. As the distillery enters its 200th year and prepares to open the Johnnie Walker whisky experience in Edinburgh, it’s understandable how much time and resource its devoting to converting people into whisky lovers. The Highball is clearly at the centre of its strategy and there’s a good reason why. As a serve it has a realistic chance of opening up the world of whisky to people who never considered it before. It’s whisky’s closest relative to the gin and tonic and a favourite of bartenders. And Japan, for that matter. It makes whisky seem modern, enticing and refreshing. 

Johnnie Walker whisky highballs

Look, it’s Johnnie Walker’s whisky ambassador Ali Reynolds!

One of the challenges for the 2019 World Class bartender competition, which was to create a pre-canned Johnnie Walker Highball. “It’s a daunting challenge because a lot of people would question how many flavours could you possibly get out of it. But every single drink was different,” Reynolds explains. “But the way bars are heading now, they want drinks that mean quick service, simplicity and easy access for their bartenders. There’s no longer five deep at the bar, someone shaking and stirring drinks until their arms are falling off. It’s quick, easy, clean and about dedicating more time to the customer than just being behind the bar, busy. Pre-bottled Highballs offer a really good way to do that”. 

Changing perceptions around whisky is very much an ongoing process, however. Reynolds recalls being told off a few years ago for combining Lagavulin 16 Year Old and Coca Cola. He was told in no uncertain terms that you don’t make a 16-year-old whisky to be mixed with Coke. By Fèis Ìle 2019, he was serving a ‘Smokey Cokey Floaty’, made with Lagavulin 16, Coca Cola and a scoop of ice cream on top. “We’re always looking to bring more diversity to the category, whether that’s women or young people. At a lot of recent events and festivals we’ve been making Highballs with peach tea, green tea, lemon, ginger and elderflower, so that’s five very different flavours,” he says. “If you went back 15 years and talked about mixing elderflower with Scotch, people would recoil and say ‘What are you talking about, what’s going on here?’ But that’s silly because I can’t honestly name another spirit category that has that breadth of flavour that Scotch has. We have the smoke, we have the sweetness, the fruit, the waxiness, the wood. It’s incredible. Accessibility is the key for us”. 

With this in mind, the first of the four expressions arrives. It’s the Jal-Jeera, a mix of Johnnie Walker Black, apple and chaat masala ginger ale. “The smoked apple note and then that addition of masala has just given it such a unique taste. It reminds me of smoked fish, kedgeree style, which is such a weird tasting note to put into something so refreshing but it really works. I’m a fiend for spicy food, I absolutely love it and this one is perfect for it,” Reynolds says of it. I think it’s fabulous, instantly refreshing and beautifully spiced and the aromatic combination of the ginger and apple is wonderful. 

Johnnie Walker whisky highballs

The Jal-Jeera, Sandalwood Sharbat and Passion Fruit Lassi

We then moved on to the Passion Fruit Lassi, a combination of Johnnie Walker Gold, passion fruit, pandan and clarified yoghurt soda. “This one I think is very much based around the Pornstar Martini. The fact that they’ve used passion fruit, yoghurt and pandan just makes it a little bit more accessible to the regular drinker. It’s super-fruity and creamy,” says Reynolds. “Gold Label has got this amazing viscosity to it and oiliness which kind of coats the palate and they’ve taken that element from it and then recreated it in a soda. If you gave this and the Sandalwood Sharbat to anyone they wouldn’t bet their money on whisky being in it.” We both agree that this isn’t our personal favourite of the selection, but it’s interesting because it totally differs from what your expectation of a whisky and soda would be in the best possible way.

Next, we tried that Sandalwood Sharbat, a Highball consisting of Johnnie Walker Green, amontillado sherry, sandalwood and banana soda. “The Green Label has got Talisker, Linkwood, Cragganmore and Caol Ila in there and the sandalwood brings out all the wonderful wood characteristics from the four distilleries. The amontillado sherry complements the bit of saltiness from the Caol Ila, but again this is a really refreshing and easygoing serve,” Reynolds says. “Throughout this range, they’ve done a really good job of dissecting the whisky in terms of its flavours”. This was probably the highlight of the range for me, it’s complex and bittersweet and ridiculously moreish. I’d drink the soda element on its own happily and the touch of sherry is beautifully measured.

Finally, we tried the showstopper of the range. The Nepalese Butter Tea, which was made from Johnnie Walker Blue Label, pineapple caramel, brown butter, milk oolong tea and Champagne, is served in a Champagne-style bottle and intended for four people to share. “The flavours are great. Whisky and Champagne is an overlooked pairing, for sure. But when we did the Blue Label tasting we agreed that it’s got waves of flavours which is why the ingredients they’ve used here, the milk oolong, the Champagne, they’re quite delicate so they don’t take away too much from the whisky,” Reynolds explains. This is by far the most indulgent of the range and it’s an interesting demonstration into how you can turn a humble serve into a premium cocktail. It’s still  refreshing enough to work as a Highball, but the butter element, in particular, adds a decadent richness that’s amazing, although I would say best enjoyed in small quantities.

Johnnie Walker whisky highballs

The decadent and delicious Nepalese Butter Tea

Tasting this range, my immediate thought is that I know people who don’t like whisky who would happily drink these cocktails. It’s an impressively comprehensive selection for just four drinks and I can imagine that there will be something there for everyone. If these Johnnie Walker whisky highballs are a sign of the direction that whisky drinking is going in, I think we’re on to something. 

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