The Spirits #90: The Highball
~ The Izakayas of Shinjuku ~ False Economies ~ An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump ~ Immodesty ~ Whisky Story Time ~
~ THE HIGHBALL ~
50ml Scotch (or Japanese) whisky
100ml fizzy water
Fill a tall glass - a highball glass, indeed - with ice. Add whisky. Add water. Stir. Twist a little lemon zest over the drink to release the oils and then discard.
Some Highball Notes:
1) A Highball is composed of a spirit and a mixer, served in a tall glass. You can make a Highball with any A+B you fancy: aquavit + Dr Pepper; pear eau de vie + Irn-Bru; etc. Bertie Wooster favours Brandy + Soda often for breakfast. But the classic is Whisky + Soda which the Japanese in particular have taken to a high art.
2) By all means use your best Yamazaki or Hibiki but basic blended Scotch is all you really need here. I used Famous Grouse, which has plenty of malt in it, discernible peat and, reportedly, drams of the famed Macallan - but is a mere £15.99 at my local newsagent. (Teachers is my other go-to basic Scotch, usually a similar price if not less). We often under-rate the over-familiar and vice versa, I find.
3) I use the terms soda water, sparkling water and fizzy water interchangably; what I mean is carbonated water. I used less than optimally fizzy San Pellegrino here but my preference is Perrier for its vigorous effervescence.
🖊️I am Richard Godwin.
🧋My instructions for sugar syrup, ice, grenadine, orgeat, etc are here.
🧑🏫 My 10 RULES FOR MAKING COCKTAILS are here.
⚗️ My bottle recommendations are here.
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AS ANYONE who has ventured into the Izakayas of Shinjuku will know, the Highball is the sort of thing you can drink all evening and possibly into the next morning too. Actually, I think I made that discovery a little earlier, in British pubs, where it is a good option if you’re unsure of beer quality or else fancy something lighter. You can take Highballs in a fancy direction (artisanal sodas, herbal garnishes, dashes of liqueurs, etc) but actually what I like is the spartan non-cocktailiness of the thing. A friend of mine once commended it to me as a great thing to drink while writing too and - well, you’ll have to ask my editors about that one.
SODA, I recently discovered, was invented in Leeds by the chemist Joseph Priestley in in 1767. “If water be only in contact with fixed air, it will begin to imbibe it…” At first, he thought it would be best somehow to suspend a water vessel over a fermentation tank and force bubbles into it; but he soon hit upon the method of combining vitriol and chalk in water to make CO2 and gave some to Captain Cook in the hope it would cure scurvy. It did not; but I bet the sailors enjoyed it all the same.
Priestley would later discover oxygen too. His experiements were apparently frequented by the painter Joseph Wright of Darby and so, I would like to think, helped to inspire my favourite painting in the National Gallery, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump. There is something so true, don’t you think, in the older daughter who can’t look at the dying bird, the mansplaining father wagging his finger and saying now now, you must look - plus the younger daughter unable to look away and the gentleman in the front on the right, clearly grasping the implications of where this cruelty will lead. I can remember the late Brian Sewell holding forth in front of this canvas: “All the Promethean terror and promise of the Enlightenment!”
I was pleased to come upon this little endorsement of The Spirits from Andrew O’Hagan in Esquire, which I hope you don’t mind my sharing:
“I have a soft spot for the new Claridge's – The Cocktail Book, but the best, most elegant, and most sparkling of such books on my shelf at the moment is Richard Godwin's The Spirits: A Guide to Modern Cocktailing. It's one thing to mix drinks, but another to know their joy by heart, and the author serves up truths like the veritable philosopher of the art form. Not many books, and certainly not the Bible, can offer to save your marriage, but The Spirits might do that and a little more. "No lover will think any less of you," he writes, "should you present them with a well-iced El Presidente when they walk through the door."
Available in all good bookshops! It’s Christmas soon, you know.
The collective noun for a highball is a “flock”.
Kept it simple, didn’t I? Whisky.
THIS PLAYLIST UPDATES AUTOMATICALLY EACH WEEK. The idea is, you download/’like’ it and return to it each week in your Spotify to find a suite of new songs. If there was an old song you’d like to hear again, you’ll find it RIGHT HERE in the massive ongoing archive of past playlists.
CABINET POSTS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED:
🍑 Apricot Brandy
🍫 Crème de Cacao
WHAT I’VE BEEN WRITING
I interviewed the remarkable 17-year-old composer, Alma Deutscher (Sunday Times)
WHAT I’VE BEEN READING
Here is a rather saddening piece about how we’re spending more and more time alone. The focus is on the US, but I suspect applies just as well to Britain. “The average American spent 15 hours per week with [friends] a decade ago, 12 hours per week in 2019, and only 10 hours a week in 2021. On average, Americans did not transfer that lost time to spouses, partners or children. Instead, they chose to be alone.” (Washington Post)
The case of studying literature (LRB)
Justin E. H. Smith, a Paris-based American philosopher, writes one of the smartest bulletins in the newslettersphere. This recent dispatch grapples with fermentation, distillation and his decision in midlife to give up alcohol. It contains some stellar writing. The following has a certain Bird and Air Pump quality to it, I feel:
“If all fermentation techniques are continuous with what we have always done, distillation is another story altogether. It is the business not of the farmer, but of the chemist. Its apparatus is the same as that of the alchemical laboratory. As with science in general, its motive is fundamentally perverse, and Promethean: to intrude into natural processes and make them do what we will them to do.” (Hinternet)
While we’re on Scotch, let’s do this one: Scotch, Italian vermouth, Angostura bitters.