Drink This Now: Japanese Highball at Uni

New bar manager Ándrea Pentabona has four, elevated takes on the classic whiskey drink on her new cocktail menu.

Japanese highball uni boston

Bourbon tamarind highball at Uni. / Photo provided

Begin your next visit to Ken Oringer and Tony Messina’s incomparable Uni with a sparkling Japanese whiskey highball—it’s what you’d probably do at a Tokyo sashimi bar.

The simple cocktail—traditionally, just Japanese whiskey and soda water over ice—has been a go-to in Japan for decades, well before the country’s blossoming cocktail culture really took off, says Ándrea Pentabona, Uni’s new bar manager.

“While drinking whiskey neat is definitely the first way you think to drink a really good whiskey, it’s not necessarily sustainable if you’re drinking over a long period of time,” she says. Since expanding from a tight, straightforward sashimi bar in the basement of now-closed Clio into a full-on Japanese-style pub, sushi bar, and pan-Asian delight, the highball category fits perfectly at Uni. “Izakayas are all about having a great time all night, and a highball is the way to do that.”

Made with a deft hand, the pristine whiskey won’t be overshadowed by the sparkling water, Pentabona says. On her bar, it’s made with Mountain Valley Spring Water, an industry favorite for its clean taste and delicate fizz. Pentabona asked Houston cocktail connoisseur Bobby Heugel, the James Beard Award-nominated owner of Anvil Bar and Refuge, for his input, and he recommended the American product. A sparkling water-tasting with her bar team confirmed his pick, she says.

“It has enough of a backbone to stand up to the whiskey, and enough of a bubble structure—it seems silly to talk about it, but when you taste it side-by-side, it is a huge difference,” Pentabona says, laughing a little.

For her classic highball, Pentabona ups the ante slightly with a dash of bitters—for the first iteration, it’s Bittermens Winter Melon, though she plans to keep it seasonal.

“I wanted to parallel everything [sushi chef Akira Sugimoto] and [executive chef and partner Tony Messina] are doing in the kitchen, which is taking really amazing ingredients and adding a little something to make them pop, or help you taste them in a way you haven’t had before,” she says.

Pentabona, a Providence native, took over for Uni 2.0 opening bar manager Jason Kilgore in September. She was previously lead bartender at Woods Hill Table in Concord, Red Bird in Waltham, and was at the Hawthorne, Tavern Road, the Dorrance in Providence, and more.

Her cocktail list debuted at Uni just before Christmas, with four new highballs ($13 each):

  • Japanese: Suntory Toki Japanese whiskey, Winter Melon Bitters, Mountain Valley Spring Water
  • Early Winter: Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy, sage-infused cranberry juice, Mountain Valley Spring Water
  • Tamarind: Four Roses Bourbon, tamarind, orange bitters, Amaro Montenegro, Mountain Valley Spring Water
  • G&T: Death’s Door Gin, house-made tonic with Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur of the Alps

For heavier dishes, like the infamous White Castle makimono roll, drinks from the section dedicated to tiki-style cocktails (a focus since Uni reopened), something from the New Classics, or the rotating sake drink might be a stronger counterpart, but if you want to stick to highballs all night, you certainly can.

“It’s still whiskey,” Pentabona says. “It’s not that light.”

370 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-536-7200, uni-boston.com.