The story behind the rooftop bar's bubbly new offering

In this city, highball is a party hosted by Nina West. But the annual Halloween bash takes its name from the simple cocktail: about 2 ounces of your favorite spirit and a mixer. 

Japanese highballs, featuring highly carbonated water and Japanese whisky, have been popular for decades and elevated to a kind of minimalist art form. They first came into vogue at Torys Bars, founded by the distiller Suntory, in 1950s Japan. After a dry spell, whisky highballs started making a comeback last decade and are now ubiquitous in Japan’s izakayas. Here in the U.S., they’re on the rise, and in Central Ohio, there’s now one spot where you can get a proper Japanese highball: Vaso, the rooftop bar that caps the AC Hotel in Dublin’s Bridge Park. 

Vaso has steadily amped up its cocktail program since opening in late 2017. Orcun Turkay, who was recently promoted to corporate director of food and beverage for Shaner Hotel Group, oversees a talented team of bartenders including Rebecca Monday and newly hired Logan Demmy (formerly of The Citizens Trust). Turkay, for one, is dreaming big, with the goal of Vaso becoming one of the top bars in the world. 

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“We have a shot at something beautiful,” Turkay says. Key to achieving that lofty goal is keeping track of global cocktail trends and trying new things.

Enter: Japanese highballs.

There are essentially four key elements to this bubbly libation: very cold temperature, clear ice, extremely carbonated soda and a blended whisky like Suntory Whisky Toki. (Vaso’s ratio of soda to booze is about 4-to-1.) Add in some aromatics and a sexy tall glass, and you have a drink that’s not too boozy but clean, crisp and playful.  

At last year’s Tales of the Cocktail, New Orleans’ annual gathering of hospitality industry professionals and cocktail enthusiasts, Turkay recalls seeing Japanese highballs made with impeccable attention to detail and an assist from the Suntory Whisky Toki Highball machine, a piece of bar wizardry (and brilliant marketing) that’s showing up in more and more U.S. cities. 

The machines, which cost around $7,000–$8,000, refrigerate and combine Japanese whisky with sparkling water that is 1.5 times more carbonated than Champagne. The result is an uberbrisk whisky highball on draft. Turkay was determined to get it, and now Vaso has one of only two in Ohio. (Tokyo Kitty in Cincinnati has the other.)

Also integral to the whisky highball is flawless ice. For that, Turkay turned to Travis Owens of Behind the Glass Consulting (and formerly Curio), who provides transparent columns of ice that melt slowly—so as not to dilute the drink or kill the carbonated fun. Aroma and garnish from the Japanese herb shiso finish off Vaso’s version.

Not a whiskey drinker? The rooftop restaurant and bar also offers gin and vodka highballs, using Suntory’s Roku Gin and Haku Vodka. Don’t look now, but your Tito’s and soda may have competition.

Vaso at AC Hotel Dublin, 6540 Riverside Dr., Dublin, 614-698-2525, vasodublin.com