Growing up with whisky

Dad loved whisky so much that he named his German Shepherd, Whisky. And when his beloved canine crossed the rainbow bridge, he named the next dog Whisky, too. As you can imagine, I was around Whisky a lot – the dog(s) and his favorite spirit.

As an only child, I was carted around to many social functions with my parents.  Dad was an advertising executive in the 60s and early 70s, working for a mega agency, J. Walter Thompson, out of the Tokyo office. (And if you ever want to know what that lifestyle was like, just watch an episode of Mad Men.)

As a result, I was around a lot of adults, adult foods and adult drinks. I was also exposed to many brands, but the one that stood out most from those days was Suntory, Japan’s first whisky distillery.

In Japan, the whisky highball was the drink. Because whisky was mixed with a great deal of club soda and ice,  it was easy to enjoy many glasses of them. And so as the night went on at these gatherings, I’d hear giggles, then bursts of laughter, quick exchanges in both Japanese and English languages, and of course, the ice clinking against their glasses. It must have been refreshing.

Thirty-five years later, I hadn’t given this drink a second thought, until I attended  Now Drink This Live, a series of immersive spirits-tasting experiences on the Las Vegas Strip, hosted by award-winning spirits writer Xania Woodman with special guest educators.

This particular evening her guest, Suntory’s U.S. brand ambassador Johnnie Mundell, took us on a virtual tour to Suntory’s first distillery, Yamasaki, located in the Osaka prefecture. He taught us everything we wanted to know about Japanese whisky, the history, the culture and the brand. He also introduced us to Toki, Suntory’s newest groundbreaking blended whisky.

By the end of the evening, I was completely enchanted. Not just from sipping Japanese whisky, but from the overwhelming resurgence of the fondest memories I had of my dad.

Ironically, the word “Toki” means “a connection in time” in Japanese. Whoa, I’ll take it as a sign!

The quality of the ice and water make all the difference.

The next day, I visited my mom’s house and I took notice of all the Suntory bottles she had saved over the years.  According to her, these were very rare and special gifts given to dad during his days in the advertising business.

750 ml. Released in 1989
An incredibly rare, “60 month old” Yamazaki single malt from Suntory bottled for the Japanese market. Circa 1970s

Indeed, that night was very special for me. I always embrace these educational experiences, as they further my education and appreciation for the field of food and beverage writing. But I had no idea, it would offer such a convergence of intensity and harmony. Needless to say, the next time I come up to the bar,  I’ll be ordering a whisky highball and having that drink that dad and I never had a chance to enjoy together. I know he’ll be there in spirit.

How to make the PERFECT Japanese Highball (courtesy of SeongHa Lee, lead bartender, Zuma in The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, who was a bartender at a Suntory Bar  – Keihan Kyobashi Hotel, Osaka, JAPAN)

  
Danielle DeBruno Photography

  1. Fill a clean highball glass with ice to chill the glass
  2.  Discard the ice and melted water
  3. Fill the glass with GOOD (clear, not cloudy) ice
  4. Add 1.5 oz of Suntory Whisky
  5. Stir 12 and a half times
  6. Add club soda along the glass to the top
  7. Stir 2 and a half times
  8. Say “Kanpai” and drink with friend

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