Sophisticated bubbles are no longer reserved for sommeliers, thanks to the Toki highball machine. The Japanese draft system, made by Hoshizaki, delivers intensely carbonated water to chilled whisky for a perfect highball, and now it’s making its way behind bars across America.
The two-ingredient recipe for the Japanese highball couldn’t be simpler, but according to Jim Meehan, a partner at Chicago’s new Frank Lloyd Wright–inspired cocktail bar, Prairie School, there’s a catch: “When you have a recipe with just two ingredients, as opposed to five, you have only two legs to stand on,” he says. “A simple drink forces you to up your ice, glass, straw, and mixer game.” The machine’s manufacturers suggest a 1:3 whisky-to-soda ratio, but Meehan opts for a boozier 2:3, which Second City patrons have dubbed “The Chiball.”
Hoshizaki even collaborated with spirits giant Beam Suntory to produce soda water that’s 40 percent more carbonated than what you’d get out of a bottle or soda gun. “People like Champagne largely for its mouthfeel, and it’s the same thing with a high-quality soda water,” says “spirit guide” Pedro Shanahan, who offers a Japanese highball at Bar Jackalope in Los Angeles. “We put a lot of stock in smell and taste, but we often forget that we have an inherent ability to detect texture, and that it’s actually very important to us.”
Consistency is a big factor too. The machine’s ability to produce perfectly calibrated cocktails around the clock is particularly appealing for a place like New York’s bustling Ippudo 5th Avenue ramen shop. “When your bartenders are making 50 of these drinks to order every night, you may not get the exact product you want with each one,” says manager Damien Kinkela. “The machine takes out the guesswork. It’s kind of awesome.”
Another selling point of the draft highball is that the drink, a product of Japan’s hot summers, is far less boozy than your average whisky dram, with an ABV roughly equivalent to that of a beer. “I think a lot of Americans are looking for lower-proof drinks,” Meehan says, “and this is a flavorful and interesting way to accomplish that.”
“The Japanese highball is appropriate for occasions when a whisky soda simply wouldn’t be, like a business lunch,” Kinkela adds. “It’s like ordering a glass of wine. It’s a little classier and more approachable.”
Shanahan agrees: “It’s refreshing and layered, making it the kind of cocktail you could enjoy every day.”