“Komorebi is an untranslatable word, which refers to the effect of sunlight streaming through the leaves of the trees, creating a dance between the light and the leaves.”
Komorebi. A state of mind. An invitation to slow down, to look deeper, to be fully in the moment. Forget your destination. It is the path that matters. Along this path, sunlight is streaming through the leaves– or in this case, through ice.
Take a seat. Put the phone away. See: How delicate the glass. Listen: Ice, being cut with a stitch-sharp knife. Breathe, deeply: An old teahouse, an apple orchard, water trickling over cobblestones.
Today, I am serving you a mizuwari— the ritual preparation of a Japanese highball. Literally, it means “water, cut”— as with a sword. Here, the water is cut with whisky.
In this case, we are blending Japanese whisky with tea liqueur. Which is a natural pairing, spiritually speaking, since the form of mizuwari is derived from the tea ceremony.
Specifically, the Komorebi Highball was inspired by peach mint tea. Not American peach tea (which is mostly sugar), but one with a Japanese disposition that does not overwhelm the whisky.
This is possible using Fauchon tea liqueur, which is specifically produced for the Japanese market. It’s a remarkably pure, delicate expression of fine Darjeeling tea.
If you’ve ever been to Japan in the summer and savored their powder-white peaches– huge, manicured, and bursting with honey-sweet juice– you know their fragrance. Despite their sweetness, they are never cloying. Somehow, they are never too ripe. In their stead, we’re using peach bitters.
The gentlest voice is often the most distinguished. The goal here is not to make a peach tea highball, but to make an excellent highball– one which may be reminiscent of peach mint tea to someone who is listening closely.
In a moment, I will prepare this drink for you. But first, a quick word on highballs.
They are my non-guilty guilty pleasure.
The Old Fashioned may officially be my favorite cocktail, but highballs are what I drink the most.
Largely, this is because no cocktail is as versatile as a highball.
As with any effervescent drink, it’s the perfect way to start an evening. After a night of merriment– maybe a little too much merriment– it’s also the perfect drink to end with. Almost singularly, it has the power to hydrate the body while allowing one to extend the night just a little longer, as we are wont to do when the night is going well.
A highball also pairs perfectly with food– in fact, with any type of food. Any time you’d want a wine or beer, a highball is likely better.
It asks for nothing more than whisky and water, yet accepts many variations.
But most of all, I just love the process.
First, take large, perfectly clear blocks of ice and cut to size.
Nestle into a clean, thin-rimmed highball glass.
With one hand, steady the base of the glass. With the other, keeping your fingers straight (in Japanese bartending, straight fingers are part of an elegant stir), stir the ice clockwise– smoothly and silently– until the glass is chilled. Strain the meltwater.
With pride, present the whisky to your guest.
With care, pour 1.5 oz. of Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve over the ice.
Followed by .25 oz. Fauchon Tea Liqueur and 1 dash peach bitters.
As you silently stir, visualize the transfer between the ice and the whisky. Watch as the glass begins to frost over. How will you know when the stirring is finished? When you feel it, in your heart.
Top with freshly shucked mineral soda water. I am partial to Suntory Yamazaki Soda Water, which has very fine bubbles, and no off tastes or hint of sulphur even after going flat; only a clean mineral flavor which somehow tastes of the whisky itself.
To blend the whisky and water without losing carbonation, use your barspoon to gently lift the ice and set it back down.
Finish with a single pristine mint leaf, so as not to overwhelm, and top with one more piece of clear ice, carved to fit the glass just so.
Finally, watch the ice disappear, as though it’s not even there.
Feel your thoughts clear, as the light shines gold and green through the glass like sunlight through the trees.
As you drink, notice that somehow, it is also gold and green on your tongue, like dancing light.
Perhaps now, Robert Frost’s poem is coming to mind: “Nature’s first green is gold / Her hardest hue to hold . . .”
Drink it and be present. And maybe drift a little as well. Breathe in the fragrant sweet malt and the fresh green mint like a breeze over the river bridge. Taste it and dream. It’s cool and refreshing, gold and green, like honey and apples, like the dawn rising through the leaves. Like the sun over the hills of Japan.