When I first came to Japan, I was intrigued by the drinks they had stocked in convenience store refrigerators.
I thought “What is a “high ball?”. At that time my Japanese wasn’t so hot, and I thought maybe it was some sort of sports drink related to baseball….
I, who have now lived in Japan for 4 years, have already experienced things like Izakayas and house parties, but at that time I just thought that highballs were only related to sports.
Today I would like to introduce to you an element of Japan’s whisky culture, “highball”. In times today, not just Japan but nearly everywhere around the world you can probably find highballs on the menu at a Japanese style Izakaya. In Japan highballs are just made from mixing in soda with whiskey.
So why is it called “HighBall”?
Actually, this naming doesn’t come from a Japanese but from a Scotish person from several hundred years back who always drank alcohol while playing golf.
In some fashion or another, he would begin drinking by adding a bit of soda to his whiskey. After having a few sips he would swing his club at the ball launching it into the air screaming “highball!!”. A pretty interesting fella to say the least.
As you may already know, at that time, people were accustomed to associating western goods like whiskey as a symbol of wealth. However, importing whiskey was too expensive, and unfortunately, the Japan at that time couldn’t really produce any of their own. After a massive demand increase stimulated by the market, Japan’s producer SUNTORY began developing cheap whiskey under the name “Torys” in 1946.
By the way, at that time to further promote western culture, there was campaign that stated one should drink Torys while taking a trip to Hawaii.
In 1950 the Highball idea is what reignited the Japanese market.
Since soda is used in highballs, it dilutes the intensity of the whiskey, and as a result it became very drinkable among Japanese. Additionally, it was super cheap so it was easily accessible.
At that time, HighBall = soda + whiskey
Because of the accelaration of world trade in the 1990’s, SUNTORY hit a downward slope as a foreign whiskey distiller. Shochu (a wine based from typically potatos) was seeing popularity, and more and more young people were labeling highballs as a drink for old people.
However, SUNTORY began aggressively shifting their focus to selling their highballs to independent Izakayas (Japanese pubs), and they were able to get highballs on their menus. While developing the kaku highball brand on the side, a sort of how to, educational commercial ran on TV, and people became slowly brainwashed on how to make highballs.
Here the beautiful actress Haruka Igawa teaches you how to make the perfect highball.
Current HighBalls = Kaku whiskey 1: 1/4 soda + lemon juice + one big ice cube
Also, can versions of the drink were becoming more popular at the time so young people started to accept highballs more.
Kaku whiskey’s marketing continued to use Haruka Igawa as SUNTORY’s commercial spokeswomen all the way up into her 50’s.
My goddess Yuriko Yoshita is the current representative for highballs and just be watching her commercials I start to like the taste of highball more and more.
For true lovers of whiskey, highballs may get quite a bit of criticism. However, a large amount of people still love them, and I believe they were a huge milestone. If you visit any izakaya, you will 100% see highballs on the menu (around 2.5 bucks). So if you come to Japan, don’t just drink sake, but quench your thirst with a nice highball.
（can Highball 150-200 yen cheep~）