Last week, I tasted a whisky highball which used Amrut whisky infused with agarwood, sourced from Hajoi in Assam. Named The Agarwood Highball, it was created by the UK-based beverage consultancy The Herball, which collaborated with the restaurant NOON in Mumbai for a three-day residency last month. The highball had a touch of carbonation and notes of oolong; it glistened like vintage gold.
In the hyped haze of drinks with gin, rum and tequila, it isn’t surprising that sublime whisky highballs may go unnoticed. This is an attempt to make space for this essential summer cocktail.
The classic recipe has three ingredients: whisky, soda or ginger ale and clear ice (preferably). Simply put, it’s whisky-soda. “Indian bartenders have been doing a lot with highballs because it fits their consumer’s palate. In India, not too many people are experimental, and whisky-soda is their go-to drink. A slight flavour twist to this combination can make them curious for more,” says Delhi-based beverage consultant Nitin Tewari.
This cocktail was popularised by the Japanese whisky brand Suntory with a sharp focus on precision: from handcrafted ice to the whisky blend and glassware. When I asked Vikram Achanta, co-founder of the awards platform 30 Best Bars in India, for recommendations, unsurprisingly he picked the Japanese restaurant Roka in Dubai. “Their eponymous highball has Japanese whisky, palo santo, jasmine and lemongrass. Palo santo is a wild tree, and some say it dispels negative energy. If you are looking for an excuse to drink that highball, this is it.” In India, he chose a drink called Unless You Order Double from the bar, Home in Delhi: “A sparkling drink, it features Japanese whisky, Aperol, pineapple miso and spices. It’s floral and fun with the ingredients balancing themselves out perfectly.” This drink gets another vote from Delhi-based cocktail enthusiast Puru Aggarwal.
In Delhi, Home in Vasant Kunj, Sidecar in Greater Kailash 2 and Lair in Vasant Vihar are stand-out bars. Aneesh Bhasin, co-founder of the premium mixers brand Svami, speaks of the Classic Scotch Collins from Sidecar: “It’s got scotch and apple cinnamon soda. It drives home the point that a whisky highball is about simple ingredients put together for a no-fuss, nice and refreshing experience.”
Aggarwal makes a case for two drinks from Lair: Kotgarh enriched with flavours of Himachali apples; and Coorg Highball laced with coffee.
In Mumbai, Bhasin recommends Fifth Sense from the restaurant Seefah. It has blended whisky (a classic highball ingredient), spiced kombucha and soda, and ticks all the right boxes of a unique summer drink.
Tewari travels the country to create cocktail menus. He has a few interesting suggestions: Native Cocktail Room in Jaipur has a highball with smokey malt, orange blossom and apple; and Hideaway Café and Bar in Vagator, Goa offers a tropical variation that spells holiday.
For those who wish to fulfil an immediate whisky-highball craving, Bhasin offers a quick recipe. Stir in one part peated whisky (45ml) with two parts grapefruit tonic (90ml), add lots of ice and garnish with an orange peel. Don’t shy away from ice; if you add less, it will melt and dilute the drink.