Highballs for Lowrollers (Reader Question)

I’m 33, which is about the age at which people begin losing friends to their preferences for babies and boredom, a desire for weekends in, indifference to checking out. This is a problem for me. Not because I’m finding this rut, but because so many of my friends are beginning to. Whereas I have a tight inner circle of friends (who are thankfully not unlike me), I depend on a broader circle to round out my pursuit of varied interests, novel experiences and excessive evenings out. To coin a phrase, it takes a village. If my broader circle falters, I’m precariously left to my own devices.

Fortunately, my own devices usually lead me to new friends. In the case of our recently completed Chicago summer, it led me to younger friends, like, a third younger. It’s interesting hanging out with freshly-minted, early-20-something college grads, especially if you select for the right mix of high intelligence and openness.

Among the benefits of younger friends is enjoying their energy and free time. But there is a slight downside to being young. Even if you’re a relatively high earner, you have no where near the purchasing power of your older peers. This can get in the way, especially if one prefers to get drunk on things worth drinking. Even if your taste preferences lead you up the hill to richer lands, your pocketbook pushes you back down to the soggy banks of the river Natty Lite.

This very question came up during one such night out:

I’m in grad school so I drink at home out of necessity. I can’t afford decent wine. I don’t like beer. Cocktails are fine, but they require investments of time and money that I don’t have. How do I get my drink on in style without constantly feeling poor?

I’m roughly paraphrasing but that’s the gist. Unfortunately, I can’t help with the feeling poor bit. But I can certainly help with getting drunk in style, with ease and on the cheap. My solution: The Japanese highball cocktail.

I love simple highball cocktails, made to exacting specifications, in the traditional Japanese style–called mizuwari. But, as I’ve said over and over on this site, doing something simple takes great skill. Complexity is too often merely a guise for amateurs. There is no place to hide your mistakes in simplicity.

Unfortunately, I can’t expect my young graduate student friend to spend months perfecting his highball technique. Thus, with the added flair of creative flavor extraction techniques done a la minute, I intend to show how you can create varying degrees of complexity to hide your unpracticed hand. With three cocktails–a truly simple mizuwari style whiskey highball, a nuanced but more forgiving cachaça-lime-tonic highball and a fail-safe, Thai-inspired gin tonic highball–you can gauge your highball talents with ease. So let’s get started.

Have a question? Ask Me Anything!

The Recipes

Mizuwari Whiskey Highball

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Ingredients

60 mL (2 fl oz) Japanese blended whisky (ideally, Suntory Hibiki Harmony, but Suntory Toki is a viable option at a lower price point)
40 mL (1-1/3 fl oz) high quality, grainy bubble soda water (ideally, Fever-Tree Spring Club, but a glass bottle of Perrier or San Pellegrino are viable at a lower price point), chilled
5 2.5 cm (1 in) cubes of high quality, clear ice (you can read more about making quality ice in my introduction to shaken cocktails)
100 mL (3-1/3 fl oz) filtered water, chilled

Procedure

  1. In a narrow highball or Collins glass place two of the ice cubes and slowly pour the chilled water over them. With a barspoon, stir until glass accumulates substantial condensation. With a strainer, carefully and patiently pour out all of the water, such that only ice and mere drops of water remain.
  2. Add an additional cube of ice. Slowly pour whisky over the ice. Insert a barspoon along the side of the glass. Delicately but consistently stir the whisky and ice clockwise 13.5 times.
  3. Add one to two additional cubes of ice until the ice level reaches near the rim of the glass but does not peer over it. Carefully pour the sparkling water over the ice. Again, inserting the barspoon delicately along the side of the glass, slowly and delicately stir the ice and cocktail 3.5 times clockwise. With the lip of the spoon, gently and slowly lift the ice from the bottom cube about 1 cm and carefully place back down. Carefully remove the spoon, minimizing the agitation of the cocktail. Serve immediately.

Cachaça-Lime Tonic Highball

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Ingredients

45 mL (1.5 fl oz) Brazilian cachaça with soft, green flavors (ideally, Leblon, which is thankfully inexpensive and widely available)
90 mL (3 fl oz) high quality, grainy bubble and lightly sweet tonic water (ideally, Fever-Tree Indian Tonic, but a glass bottle of Schweps tonic is viable at a lower price point), chilled
5 2.5 cm (1 in) cubes of high quality, clear ice (you can read more about making quality ice in my introduction to shaken cocktails)
Freshly grated zest of one quarter lime, with no white pith included

Procedure

  1. In a spouted mixing glass, add the grated zest followed by the cachaça. Allow to extract for at least five minutes, but no more than an 15 minutes.
  2. In a narrow highball or Collins glass place two of the ice cubes and slowly pour the chilled water over them. With a barspoon, stir until glass accumulates substantial condensation. With a strainer, carefully and patiently pour out all of the water, such that only ice and mere drops of water remain.
  3. Add an additional cube of ice. Swirl the cachaça and the zest lightly in the mixing glass then, through a fine mesh strainer, slowly pour the cachaça over the ice. Insert a barspoon along the side of the glass. Delicately but consistently stir the cachaça and ice clockwise 13.5 times.
  4. Add one to two additional cubes of ice until the ice level reaches near the rim of the glass but does not peer over it. Carefully pour the tonic water over the ice. Again, inserting the barspoon delicately along the side of the glass, slowly and delicately stir the ice and cocktail 3.5 times clockwise. With the lip of the spoon, gently and slowly lift the ice from the bottom cube about 1 cm and carefully place back down. Carefully remove the spoon, minimizing the agitation of the cocktail. Serve immediately.

Thai Gin Tonic Highball

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Ingredients

45 mL (1.5 fl oz) classic, balanced London dry gin (ideally, Beefeater or Bombay Dry; Juniper heavy varieties like Tanqueray will not do)
90 mL (3 fl oz) high quality, grainy bubble and lightly sweet tonic water (ideally, Fever-Tree Indian Tonic, but a glass bottle of Schweps tonic is viable at a lower price point), chilled
5 2.5 cm (1 in) cubes of high quality, clear ice (you can read more about making quality ice in my introduction to shaken cocktails)
4 mL (one barspoon or about 0.75 tsp) lime juice, freshly squeezed and strained through a fine mesh strainer
Freshly grated zest of one quarter orange, with no white pith included
1 medium sprig Thai basil

Procedure

  1. In a spouted mixing glass, add the grated zest, tear the basil leaves only and add next, followed by the gin. Allow to extract for at least five minutes, but no more than 15 minutes.
  2. In a narrow highball or Collins glass place two of the ice cubes and slowly pour the chilled water over them. With a barspoon, stir until glass accumulates substantial condensation. With a strainer, carefully and patiently pour out all of the water, such that only ice and mere drops of water remain.
  3. Add an additional cube of ice. Swirl the gin, zest and basil lightly in the mixing glass then, through a fine mesh strainer, slowly pour the gin over the ice, followed by the lime juice. Insert a barspoon along the side of the glass. Delicately but consistently stir the gin and ice clockwise 13.5 times.
  4. Add one to two additional cubes of ice until the ice level reaches near the rim of the glass but does not peer over it. Carefully pour the tonic water over the ice. Again, inserting the barspoon delicately along the side of the glass, slowly and delicately stir the ice and cocktail 3.5 times clockwise. With the lip of the spoon, gently and slowly lift the ice from the bottom cube about 1 cm and carefully place back down. Carefully remove the spoon, minimizing the agitation of the cocktail. Serve immediately.

Have a question? Ask Me Anything!

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