A whiskey highball may seem like a simple cocktail. There are only two ingredients, whiskey and seltzer, and for many people, it's interchangeable with a whiskey soda.
But in Japan, whiskey highballs are serious business. Every detail, from the ice to the carbonation of the soda, is meticulously crafted to elevate the relatively simple drink into something special. Lucky for Pittsburgh, Bloomfield's latest Japanese- and Korean-inspired bar, Cobra Lounge, is aiming to replicate that quality with its Toki Highball machine, a draft-like tap that pours a perfectly balanced highball every time.
Toki highball machines are the product of Suntory, Japan’s largest distillery. Every detail is balanced and precise: the ratio of the ingredients (3 seltzer-to-1 whiskey), the ideal temperature (34 degrees), and highly carbonated soda water (about 1.5 as many bubbles as your average seltzer). Cobra co-owner Miranda Piso compares it to “your most effervescent champagne.”
The bar's Suntory Toki highball is served as simply as its ingredients, in an etched glass mug, garnished by a lemon peel. The zing from the intense carbonation lingers on your lips for a few seconds longer than average soda, similar to a mildly hot pepper.
Cobra also pours highballs with Suntory's other spirits, Haku vodka and Roku gin, along with the iconic Midori highball. But it’s the seltzer that sets these cocktails apart; Piso notes that the machine’s sparkling water is so carbonated, it can’t be bottled, or it will explode.
Another one of Cobra’s popular adaptations from Japanese drinking culture is the chu-hai, short for “shochu-highball.” These canned cocktails are low-alcohol and typically found in gas stations and convenience stores. The cans are composed of shochu, a Japanese distilled beverage, and like the Suntory highballs, topped with sparkling water. Often, they’re flavored with fruit and other ingredients, and served straight from the bottle. (Cobra opts for bottles over to cans to reduce waste.) Currently, Cobra offers blueberry and lavender versions, but Piso says they’re playing around with other spirits and fresh ingredients.
The Suntory Toki highball and chu-hai have been two of Cobra’s most popular drinks since they opened in January. Alongside these, the lounge offers other Japanese and Korean-inspired cocktails, using liquors like soju and sake, popping boba, and tapioca pearls.
If you can't find your way to Japan anytime soon but want a better highball than what you can make in your kitchen, give Cobra's a try.
Cobra Lounge. 4305 Main St., Bloomfield. cobrapgh.com