I’ve finally done it. Last January 10, after a little over a month of tasting different highball variations I’ve finally concocted my own highball using Japanese whisky meant for the cocktail (The Chita!).
In theory, the highball is extremely easy to make because it only requires two ingredients: soda water and whisky. The hows of creating a highball are very straightforward but it’s the whys that I’ve come to over-reflect on to no real purpose or avail. I’m aware that the mix of soda water and whisky doesn’t sound particularly exciting. Why highballs, then? Because in this tall, slender drink, nothing is superfluous and every ingredient that goes into it is thoughtfully added and is reflective of the art of perfecting simple things, regardless of the mundane. And writing about the mundane is the reason that keeps me going. One of Charles Bukowski’s ruminations in On Writing says it best: I don’t want to make the rules but if there is one it is: the only writers who write well are those who write in order not to go mad.
Now I don’t consider myself a good writer but if I can keep myself from going mad then so be it. Now on to the next drink –
I had a friend buy me my first-ever bottle of whisky: he picked The Chita Suntory Whisky; which to most, is a no-nonsense whisky (averaging at 6-7/10 in real whisky critics’ ratings), but to me, a prized possession and validation of my new (burgeoning?) interest in the drink. It is often seen in promotional photos pictured alongside a highball, which tells its market: “This is its purpose!”. I had originally wanted an inexpensive bottle of Japanese whisky to mix with soda water to concoct my own highballs at home, but to this day, I have only ever enjoyed it neat or on the rocks (in a sad Hydro Flask on New Year’s Eve, haha).
It has all the qualities of how whisky should taste, without the shock and surprise of the Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky sweetness, and delivers a smooth and agreeable experience. It served its purpose. It is wonderfully boring and unerratic (hey, the good kind of love looks and feels ‘boring’). I soon came to realize that I like my drinks and pretty much everything else in life this way: calm and unfrenzied, steady and peaceful.
It’s easy to categorize something as a viable option when it pleases the senses or fulfills certain qualities. But how do you really calculate viability?
In my limited and growing encounters with whisky I have learned to discern what kind of flavors I like and dislike: Just a few weeks ago, I took a chance on a drink that (quite literally) left a bad taste in my mouth- the Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky. Experience is really the best teacher, so based on this one alone, I have learned a few things about why I am not a fan of this bittersweet drink. The bittersweet is a contradiction of things; pleasure and pain, bitter and sweet, delightful and distasteful. This drink was a vessel that brought syrupy-sweet flavors to my mouth (I wasn’t crazy, it’s a 4 in sweetness according to this site), with a long-lasting hot vanilla aftertaste.
Perhaps I was not as accommodating to the burst of sweetness or perhaps I do not understand it enough (what is a coffey anyway? It is only natural to dislike what one doesn’t understand!). In time I will revisit this drink when my mind isn’t split in two.
December 27, 2018: Tucked away in the godforsaken rural town of Mui Wo off the eastern coast of Lantau Island in Hong Kong was the first-ever canned highball I’ve seen in the region since arriving via Macau Dec 23. It had been 5 days of searching for my favorite class of cocktail, which many have (perhaps over-analyzed) as being more than just the sum of its parts. Mui Wo is a sleepy and quiet neighborhood island so it was the last place I expected to find this canned drink. But lo and behold, there it was, as if the universe and the ferry that swept me into the desolate island transpired to offer me some form of palliative measure of contentment (a feeling I had already experienced with my Suntory highballs).
The 7 Premium Highball’s ingredients were translated into simple English and printed out on sticker paper plastered to the can: Whisky, spirits, bulking agent, carbon dioxide, flavor, acidity regulator, color. The whisky component was nice and provided the contentment I had longed for (at the moment I don’t have any strong opinions about bulking agents and acidity regulators so I will just leave it at that). What I appreciate about it is its honest-to-goodness-ness. This was a no-nonsense drink that was consumed in under 15 minutes and we went back for more, all the other cans had already been sold out and disappeared quietly into other people’s stomachs and spirits.
Now this will be the last time I reference Roland Barthes but one part deeply resonated with me. A reasonable statement: Everything works out, but nothing lasts; an amorous statement: Nothing works out, but it keeps going on. On a scale of what’s reasonable and amorous, the 711 Premium Highball served its reasonable purpose.
Making a habit out of writing is a feat in itself: I write not because I want to, but because I can; and I can because I try.
The result of blending (heh) two activities I am paid to do (writing) and what I pay to do (drink) is this odd cocktail of a ‘review’. I went back to LIT exactly 10 days after my first sojourn (I suppose it’s safe to call it a sojourn if the length of my stay was nearly 3 hours) and found myself attempting to dissect what makes a good whisky or what makes a good memory. For the most part, I am in love with this pursuit.
In A Lover’s Discourse, one of Barthes’ fragments about love involves two affirmations. “First of all, when the lover encounters the other, there is an immediate affirmation (“man, i love this drink”): psychologically, dazzlement, enthusiasm, exaltation, and the mad projection of a fulfilled future….. I am devoured by impulse to be happy, I say yes to everything, blinding myself—” This is the effect brought about by Nikka Whisky From The Barrel (51.4%). In high ball form, it’s a bit much compared to ‘weaker’ ones I’ve had, but I’m not complaining. I’m glad the bartender/owner recommended this ‘big-boned bursting with character’ whisky, as if he knew what was suited to whoever sat across him. I was on the brink of living in ignorance but hey the power of whisky and my mind did it again
Not a review, but a lament.
A friend brought me back 2 cans of cheap convenience store high balls from Taiwan upon learning that I had been a recent ‘fan’ of the cocktail. And how can you not love it? Its sheer simplicity trumps most, if not all syrupy sweet cocktails in existence in my opinion. Good whisky is key but a well-balanced (unsweetened!) soda water makes it even better. High balls are impossible to not love: which brings me to my lament about the Suntory Jim Beam High Ball. This is a lament because of two reasons: I am in great sorrow that the drink isn’t readily available where I currently live; and second, I am in grief that the 2 cans were consumed in an instant. I had been tasked (read: paid) to watch and livetweet an inane Netflix movie with my not-so-secret alter ego Twitter account the night I had these drinks and the result was amazing. I will gladly work for high ball money, come at me**
This post was written in 5 minutes
During my college days back in 2004-2005 (freshman to sophomore year) my friends and I frequented a bar called Goose Joint situated around 300 meters from the campus. (It was a bar that also doubled as a Japanese restaurant for reasons I do not understand: you could pair your beer with bowls of gyudon and cheap kani salad and this was perfectly all right for the not-so-ordinary university student going through “rough times.”)
Rough times they barely were- which brings me to my point of reminiscing whisky as I’ve consumed it over the years. One school day, a friend and I decided to go Russian Roulette on the Goose Joint drinks menu and wherever we pointed was the drink we had to order. The first drink was a Jim Beam Bourbon Whiskey, which, if you drank it as a shot, tasted like full-on premium gasoline, bad decisions, and disappointment all rolled into one. Right then and there I knew I hated whisky but hated the brand Jim Beam even more. No one likes a bad taste of anything in their mouths.
Cut to right now, Dec 2018, in which I finally decide to revive this aging “film blog” for content other than the good and bad films I consume. The photo here is of a Miyagikyo Single Malt, a drink I had on the evening of Dec 8, 2018 at a bar called Lit in Serendra, Taguig City. The waiter fondly called it a ‘feminine’ drink because it’s supposed to have a floral and somewhat fruity finish. A friend asked me “Does that offend you? Assigning gender to drinks? Categorizing what’s floral and fruity with being feminine?” It had been the eve of my birthday and I was faced with an entire flight of Japanese whisky brands, with one brand more intimidating than the next. I thought about it long and hard: if there’s something that being ‘feminine’ has ever taught me, in the context of whisky or otherwise, it’s that the subtle ‘femininity’ in the drink carries just as much strength as its ‘masculine’ counterpart, the Single Malt Yoichi (probably another non-review to follow).
There is no deeper meaning to this. I just want to make something out of the different drinks I consume from now on. Til the next one!