December has arrived. Being that, I’m reminded of what used to be my yearly trips to Tokyo during the first week of the month.
Upon getting home, I’d follow that up and treat myself with a meal to celebrate the anniversary of what used to be one of my favorite restaurants in Metro Manila called 12/10. 12/10 stands for December 10. It’s owned by a couple who became official on that date. That date was also when they officially opened the restaurant. Sadly, the C word forced them to close earlier this year.
In the world of Scotch, it’s no secret that single malt has been getting most of the attention as of late. The blends we and/or the older folks in our lives used to rave about have been set aside like that elementary school friend you’ve become ashamed to be with. Yes, single malts do tend to be better. However, we can’t be serious drinkers and spenders all the time. Part of the reason why spirits exist is to lift our spirits, after all. Kicking back and relaxing with an easy drink is one way to do it.
One of my favorite drinks for relaxing is the highball. Sometimes, it’d be unaged Jamaican rum with grapefruit soda. In Jamaica, it’s usually called “Wray and Ting,” because Wray & Nephew Overproof is mixed with Ting. When there’s no Wray & Nephew Overproof, it’s just called Rum and Ting. Ting is a very popular grapefruit soda in Jamaica. Sadly, both aren’t available here.
Most of the time, I’d go for a Japanese highball. My choice of whisky varies. I usually go for a peated single malt or a whisky I just want to get rid of or a blend that’s really known to be good in highballs. Currently, my favorite blended Scotch for Japanese highballs is Teacher’s Highland Cream. If you want to learn more about the brand’s history, check Mark’s review.
In a time where classic cocktails such as the Old Fashioned, the Manhattan, and the Negroni are deemed more fashionable, the Japanese highball seems to have been forgotten. Yes, the low ABV movement does promote highballs such as a gin and tonic. But, it’s not a Japanese highball.
12/10 taught me to love a Japanese highball. The establishment was Izakaya themed. A lot of Japanese drinks and dishes with different twists from various influences were served. But, the design was not Japanese, and they had a proper bar for concocting proper cocktails. This is unlike the typical Izakayas, which usually just serve beer and sake.
I became a regular there since their opening. Hence, I became fast friends with the owner who handled the food and drinks. Before new cocktails would be put on the menu, I’d sometimes end up being the guinea pig. Like most chefs and bartenders, he’d prefer easy dishes and drinks after a shift or during off days. His go-to was a Japanese highball, but with bourbon. The mix of soda water and woody booze didn’t agree with me. So, I ended up asking for Japanese single malts and blends to mix with soda water. This was in 2014 or 2015, so Japanese whisky was still fairly affordable and easy to get then.
In 2019, Teacher’s Highland Cream became my favorite whisky to use in Japanese highball after I had it at a bar in Ginza, Tokyo called Apollo Bar. I’m not sure if it was me being mesmerized at how the highball was so meticulously made, or the ambiance, or just the drink itself, but the Teacher’s highball I had was probably the best I had had in life. It was rich, creamy and refreshing. For months, I craved for Teacher’s highball after that experience.
For being an institutional blend, I find it surprising that there are only two Malt reviews on it. Both were even published seven years ago. Having been owned by Beam (now Beam Suntory), I expected this blend to be better known in the west. But, I very rarely see social media posts giving love to this brand.
Teacher’s Highland Cream – Review
On the nose: An initial and long hit of pronounced cream and barley. It’s quickly followed by a sharp burst of peppers, smoke, nori, and peat. After that are light but slightly longer aromas of graham crackers, strawberry, apples, apricots, toffee, and honey. Sometimes, all the fruit notes above are just replaced by a thick and long aroma of honeysuckle.
In the mouth: Unexpectedly oilier than most blends I’m used to. The oil goes well with the creamy and barley taste. The texture remains, but the flavors end up being flat. I get a light taste of peppers, nori, smoke, and graham crackers a bit later. Diluted and stretched out tastes of apple juice, honey, and carton come out at the end.
I find this to be great on the nose. A good amount of peat, smoke, fruit and grain are expressed. But, sadly, it doesn’t translate to the mouth, which adds disappointment. This isn’t surprising, though, as most modern blends from the big companies are like this. Luckily, this is something I prefer in highballs rather than drinking neat.
Popular speculation is that the peat in this blend comes from Ardmore. It’s a safe guess, since the distillery has been under Beam (now Beam-Suntory) for the longest time.
Regardless of the price, this is the highest score I can give this whisky. I’m tempted to say that you disregard the Astor Wine price, since it’s a New York City price and any sensible person knows everything is more expensive there. But, I couldn’t find any regular sized Teacher’s in more popular and more affordable US-based stores like Total Wine and Binny’s. Perhaps, if this was better in the mouth (as in: if the flavors were more comprehensible) I’d give this a score of 5.
Teacher’s Highland Cream (in a Japanese highball) – Review
Specs: 45ml of Teacher’s, four 1×1” ice cubes, the rest is Singha soda water.
I chose these specs because this is how I think the owner of Apollo Bar, Hidenori-san, did it. He only filled the jigger once with Teachers. The ice cube he uses is clear, long, and solid. They’re nearly as long as highball glasses. Sadly, I don’t have a soda water dispenser, which he has at the bar.
I have a feeling that the effervescence of his soda water is different from Singha’s, which has become my go-to soda water. A difference in effervescence would make the drink different. The difference in ambience will also be a factor.
Review: I only get a fizzy sensation while I hold this in the mouth. Flavors come after swallowing. It’s a light burst of orange peel, peat, strawberries, cream, barley tea, graham crackers, peat, nori, apples, and dried apricots. Of course, these flavors will change as you go through the glass and/or as it dilutes more.
For USD $10 a bottle, I see this as an absolute win.
Lead photo courtesy of The Whisky Exchange. Other photo author’s own.