A High Five for the Highball

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A High Five for the Highball

It’s not just about drinking whisky or preferring to drink whisky over other alcoholic beverages. In tune with the evolving culture across the world, Indian consumers are now more than willing to experiment with their whisky, and a whisky highball is the latest trend, infused as it is with several interesting elements. In this interaction, James Cordiner and Myles Carroll, both Whisky Brand Ambassadors for DEWAR’S Whisky at Bacardi India Ltd., point out to Shalini Kumar why highballs are in favour, the mixology that works with Indian consumers, and talks about the rising curve of the highball trend.

In the Hollywood movie ‘Lost Translation’, Bill Murray plays the role of a middle-aged American film star, Bob Harris, shooting a Suntory Whisky commercial in Japan. It’s not clear whether he is having a whisky highball at the bar but yes, Japan is often referred to as the ‘Home of the Highballs’ due to the popularity of the drink therein the mid-1900s, which continues even today.

However, the origins of the highball are actually towards 1892, when Tommy Dewar, son of DEWAR’S Founder John Dewar, created the first whisky highball with DEWAR’S whisky whilst visiting the bars of New York. That is one of the reasons DEWAR’S is the perfect choice when making a highball.

It is amazing that today this old-school style has become one of the most common ways to drink whisky in India. From the recently concluded DEWAR’S Highball Challenge 2024, we are seeing how truly versatile both whisky and highballs can be, from the wide range of styles, techniques, flavours and aesthetics on display. “As consumers are exploring more interesting ways of drinking whisky in the form of cocktails, bartenders are rising to the occasion by crafting drinks with more technical processes such as clarification, infusions, shrubs and home-made sodas,” points out James Cordiner.

Making Highballs Appealing

The fact that whisky highballs are becoming increasingly popular can be attributed to the innovative approaches that modern-day mixologists are employing to make them appealing to contemporary audiences. The practice of making homemade syrups from hyper local ingredients (spices, fruits and flowers) has become very popular today, as mixologists take inspiration from local culinary creations and are trying to incorporate new savoury flavours into the highball. ‘Clarification’ has also been a growing trend, which involves filtering syrups and additives from the cocktail to introduce new flavourings into the highball while preserving its texture.

“The other factor is the education that is happening around the country. Many professional mixologists are coming to India to educate young bartenders around the country, and this knowledge sharing is helping bartenders add interesting and innovative offerings to their repertoire,” says Myles Carroll. To this, James adds that the influence of clear ice blocks has contributed significantly to highball culture. “Indians have been drinking their whisky with soda and water for many years now. The addition of the luxury ice that lasts longer and dilutes your drink less adds another great element,” Myles avers.

Changing Preferences

The whisky highball is also in favour because there has definitely been an observable difference among the whisky consumers in India. Many Indians used to be very brand loyal, but that has been changing recently. Younger consumers especially tend to enjoy many different spirits, and are more interested in exploring mixology and the culinary scene while some older Indians are starting to expand their horizons as well.

“Indian consumers are certainly becoming more adventurous, and often it starts in the bars they visit. Bartenders are great at using their creativity and passion to create new and exciting drinks, and this inspires curiosity among consumers – fuelling their desire to experiment,” James states. Another contributing factor is that Indian consumers are now more aware of what kind of whiskies are good to making highballs. When Scotch whisky highballs became popular back around the late 1800s, it was almost always blended Scotch whisky. Blends lend themselves to highballs very well because of the blending of single grain whisky, which is lighter and more approachable, with single malt whisky which is rich and flavourful. Whisky that has complexity in flavours rather than a single dominant flavour, works well for highballs, especially when aged, in a way to eliminate any harshness.

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