Suntory time

I recently was lucky enough to travel to Japan to learn about Suntory’s luxury whiskies, notably Yamazaki and Hakushu. Each has its own distillery; each has a full range of products (different ages and blends, a few special releases). Both are totally delicious and I now have a keen taste for Yamazaki 18 and Hakushu 12.

Yamazaki zen garden

Yamazaki Distillery’s zen garden

But during the course of my dreamy weeklong trip, I became obsessed with a product that Suntory wasn’t really pushing. It’s not luxurious; it’s just cool. They call it the Highball.

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My first introduction to the Suntory Highball (Kaku whisky + soda in a can) was at last year’s Manhattan Cocktail Classic. I’d attended Suntory’s event because I was told there would be a blend-your-own whisky station, which was so awesome.

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My blend turned out delicious, if I do say so myself.

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Anyway, back to the Highball. When whisky sales were declining a handful of years back, Suntory developed its canned Highball as a way to reintroduce Japanese whisky to one of the markets that matters most: young, hip bar-goers. And it totally worked. I was taken to a “highball bar” in the posh Ginza neighborhood on one of my last nights in Tokyo, and everyone was standing around (it was all tall tables & no chairs) getting sloshed on Suntory Highballs, served like this:

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It’s poured into a plastic stein glass over ice and served with a lemon, like a shandy. On the street, you can buy it for 220 yen (about $2.20) from a vending machine. I do love it so. Sadly, I was only able to smuggle two cans home, both of which were consumed a few nights ago. During my closing interview with Suntory’s Beverage Division COO, I asked whether he would consider importing the popular canned whisky-soda to the States. The reply? Not likely. Guess I’ll have to book a return trip.

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