Spoiler alert: Nearly all of these go beyond the standard ‘whisky soda served tall’ formula. Read on to find out how…
Inspired by but not bound to the traditions of izakaya, Fukuro’s highball menu is all about food friendliness: favouring ingredients and flavours that help to temper your palate between bites of Saikyo cod, karaage and snow crab-laden udon. Aside from the restaurant’s medley of ‘unconventional’ highballs (made on everything from mezcal to cachaça) the Donto is a consummate example of how even the smallest changes can have a huge impact when making three-part cocktails. Generally on the ‘refreshing’ end of the scale, it’s made on a base of Mars blended whisky, Suntory soda and then gently muddled with a few slices of just-cut green apple.
Fukuro, 1-5 Elgin Street, Soho, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2333 8841
At The Diplomat, Hong Kong’s newest, perennially buzzy cocktail divan, head mixologist John Nugent flies the flag for forgotten classics revived in a contemporary, particularly thoughtful manner. His ‘Blinker’ highball is an illustrative example: modelled on the American cocktail of the same name, first recorded in 1934. Built on bonded rye whiskey that’s been infused with the sheen and flavour of raspberry, in addition to culinary ingredients like celery bitters and verjus, it’s an oddly satisfying combination of boozy and refreshing undercurrents — made all the better by its very social media-friendly appearance.
The Diplomat, LG/F, High Block, H Code, 45 Pottinger Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 3619 0302
There’s nothing inherently distinctive about the ‘fancy’ Gin Collins that’s a long-time staple at Draftland — Taiwanese bar star Angus Zou’s casual, tap-centric venue (managed in partnership with Antonio Lai). Rather, it’s a take on the eponymous gin & soda recipe that can be relied upon to deliver the kind of consistency in flavour, temperature and aroma that’s surprisingly lacking in a lot of the city’s more mediocre highballs.
Draftland Hong Kong, G/F, 63 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2711 8809
No shortlist of Hong Kong’s best highballs would be complete without the prototypical sample, and at Kinjo’s the ‘whiskey with soda’ is about as authentic as you can get — short of hopping the next flight to Okinawa. Made on Suntory’s flagship ‘Kakubin’ (a blend of young bourbon-cask whiskies from Yamazaki and Hakushu), a lemon wedge and some good quality soda water, this is the highball recipe that most Japanese have been happily sipping since the 70s. Light, refreshing and dangerously drinkable, accept no substitutes when you’re having a few robata-grilled skewers.
Kinjo’s Izakaya, G/F, 27 Elgin Street, SoHo, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2362 9992
The popular ‘Asia’s 50 Best’ fixture has always had a line on creative ‘multi-sensory’ libations, but for our money the most consistently delicious beverages being stirred up by Antonio Lai and co happen to be their simplest. The Oolong Tea Collins is the consummate example: on paper a tripartite long drink, it uses a neutral spirit (vodka) and soda in order to highlight Quinary’s homemade oolong cordial, laden with flavours of osmanthus, haw flakes and juicy black plum. Another in the surprisingly small canon of ‘sweet yet refreshing’ cocktails.
Quinary, 56-58 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2851 3223
Undoubtedly one of the priciest highballs to make our list, the Rōnin Yamazaki highball is to all intents and purposes the classic Japanese version, dialled up to 11. The restaurant’s bartenders adopt a strict policy of only using fully clear, precision-cut ice cubes — utilising ice that melts at a uniformly slow rate is crucial whenever you’re making a highball — and ‘Tansan’ soda water, leaving you with a fundamentally strong bedrock upon which to savour the whisky. In this case, a wonderfully zesty expression of The Yamazaki that has been aged in a combination of sherry casks and Japanese mizunara oak.
Rōnin, 8 On Wo Lane, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, +852 2547 5263
Because of the highball’s innately flexible premise (i.e. a base spirit topped with a mixer, served over ice in a long glass) it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of the best variations omit whisky entirely. Admittedly, when the alternative is as good as SakeTen’s, you’ll have no problem saying sayonara to the usual. Combining the efficient delivery methods of Draftland and the light’n’bright flavours of Quinary, SakeTen’s shochu highball is a great choice if you’re looking to begin your ‘big night’ with panache.
Saketen, G/F, Shop 4, Lower Block, H Code, 45 Pottinger Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 6704 2570