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Japanese Whisky and a Drinking Ritual

Whisky Highball. Glassware by Villeroy & Boch. 

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The Japanese have been making whisky since 1924, unbeknownst to most people outside the country. One can’t be blamed for being unaware of this, as very few bottles of Japanese whisky make it to the States. Should you come across one, I recommend you try it- you may be surprised to find it tastes a heck of a lot like scotch. 

That is because the first is because the first two distilleries in Japan (Suntory and Nikka, rivals to this day) were set up by Japanese scientists who traveled to Scotland in the early 1900s to learn how the process worked. Today Japanese whiskies compete with those made in Scotland, sometimes beating them at their own game in international whisky competitions. Often these whiskies will be partially aged in Japanese oak, adding nice spicy sandalwood-esque notes to the blends.

According to Neyah White, a brand ambassador for the Suntory family of whiskies, the highball has become a popular serving style for whiskies in Japan. It’s a lower-alcohol way to enjoy the flavor of whisky without sipping it straight. He says that in most bars you’ll just get an ounce or so of whisky topped off with bottled soda water, but in some very special places you can experience Mizuwari, meaning “cut with water.” It’s an elaborate process and I can’t say whether or not it makes one’s highball taste any better, but drinking rituals are usually fun. Here’s how he described it. 


1 to 1.5 fl. oz. whisky (if not Japanese whisky, then scotch)
Two to three times as much sparkling water as whisky


  • Add ice to a highball glass. Stir with a barspoon to chill the glass, then discard any melted water from the glass. 
  • Add whisky to the glass. Stir thirteen and one-half times clockwise. 
  • Add the sparkling water and stir three and one-half times clockwise. 
  • Enjoy. 



Should you be heading to Japan to sample the local beverages any time soon, you might pick up Chris Bunting’s book Drinking Japan: A Guide to Japan’s Best Drinks and Drinking Establishments. It has information on Japanese beverages and the places in which to try them around the country. 



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