When asked, many Japanese answer that their favorite way of drinking whisky is as highball. To put ice in a long glass, to add whisky and soda is a way to drink whisky that both young and old enjoy.
It was Suntory which populated this way of drinking whisky. In the 1950s when refrigerators became the norm in Japan people used to drink cold sake or soda at their homes. Suntory foresaw this and as a result started selling a cheap whisky called Tory’s that anyone could afford. Then in 1951, a bar named Bar Brick in Ginza, Tokyo started selling highball drinks popularly called Toryhigh which quickly popularized highball among Japanese drinkers. Because of this many Japanese households stock whisky and soda at every given time and to this day highball remains a popular drink at bars in Japan.
During these years however, being a bartender was not considered very prestigious, bartenders only served drinks to customers after all, and because of this bars had a rather low reputation. In fact bartenders felt unappreciated by the world at large.
However, this, and in fact Japanese bar culture began to change in 1964, the year when the Olympics were held in Tokyo. The Japanese government actually tightened laws related to bars before all the visitors came as it did not want these visitors to have a bad impression of Japan. Because of these laws Japanese bars often had to reinvent themselves or so to speak. Bartenders made serious efforts to improve their cocktail as they, as well as others wanted to make sure that the image of Japan was as good as possible.
And at this time there was a man who made a whisky named J.B.A. (which stands for Japanese bartender association), his name was Suzuki Noboru and he was one of the founders of Toyo Juzo, a Ji-whisky maker of some note. Although J.B.A. might not be at the level of Suntory or Nikka, it greatly influenced Japanese bar culture and still today Suzuki is held in high esteem among Japanese bar tenders and so is Toyo Shuzo.
Ill talk more about Suzuki Noboru next week, for now if you get your hands on J.B.A. try putting a 60ml of whisky in a glass rinsed with sherry, add 10ml of Grand Mariner and stir, the taste is surprisingly good!