Britain operates on a round system. There isn’t a Brit alive who hasn’t gotten home after 2.00 in the morning because he couldn’t leave before he got his round in. It’s called being a gentleman and it’s what’s expected.
But herein lies the whisky lover’s problem: you can’t exactly have a round that goes, ‘Peroni, Peroni, Heineken, Peroni, Lagavulian 16-year-old.’ Bold women may break the mould and order a large glass of wine, but even then it’s only begrudgingly accepted. For years, we resided ourselves to ordering a pint or a Gin & Tonic out of respect for the round’s integrity. But after a recent trip to Japan, we’ve found the silver bullet: Scotch & Soda.
First off, the drink is properly called a Highball, but remember this about getting a whisky drink in a round and if you ask your friend for a highball, it isn't going to end well. In Britain, they started calling the Highball a Scotch & Soda in the 1800’s, probably for the reason above. Most people don’t consider it a cocktail, and it is probably the least sexy mixed drink you can order thanks to decades of bastardisation throughout the 20th century.
Before it became popular in the 1800s, watered-down whisky or any other spirits were shunned unless it served a purpose, like a dose of quinine in tonic water. Though the Gin & Tonic has never lost its foothold, even in boutique cocktail bars, why has the straightforward nature of a well-crafted Scotch & Soda received so little attention? It’s now become our go-to drink for when we are out with our friends and, while some of them roll their eyes, it fits neatly into the round.
If you say ‘I’d like a Scotch & Soda,’ most barmen in London will have no idea what you’re on about. We just choose the cheapest whisky and say we’d like it with soda. Even a Bells with soda in a high glass goes down a treat.
We had our first highball in Japan, where they are extremely popular. Suntory, the distillery behind Hibiki, Yamazaki, and Hakushu, even sells Highballs in cans. Kakubin, also owned by Suntory, is the most popular whisky for a Highball in Japan; but it’s about £60 a bottle in the UK and we don’t think it’s right to mix with soda at that price point.
If you want to be fancy, try Bruichladdich & soda with just a dash of orange bitters. While a bit of the Bruichladdich gets lost in the glass, the soda gently carries its creamy notes of vanilla, barley and citrus - accentuated by the bitters.
Many of our friends, who wouldn’t allow more than three drops of water to touch their whisky, would never order a Scotch & Soda. We think it solves a problem. When we’re out with a group and the guy at the front of the bar turns around and asks what we’re drinking, we know what we’ll say.