We are willing to bet that nearly every Indian teenager’s first drink was a highball. Do any of these sound familiar: Vodka Red Bull, Rum & Thums Up, Gin & Limca? Ours was (unsurprisingly) a furtive dash of whisky in a tall glass of soda when the grown-ups weren’t looking.
A highball is basically a shot of any spirit mixed with a generous amount of fizzy, non-alcoholic mixer, in a tall glass over ice. It honestly doesn’t get simpler than this delicious "pour and serve" drink.
The highball may have begun its life as a whisky drink (which in turn has its origins in brandy and soda), but is today made with any spirit - think gin & tonic, Scotch & soda, vodka soda and even a Long Island Iced Tea! You can highball pretty much any cocktail and so a highball is essentially a short drink made long.
A short history
As with all good booze stories, the origins of a highball too are disputed… so here is our favourite of the lot.
Tommy Dewar, of the famous Scotch whisky, claimed to have invented the highball in the late 1800s, when he was strolling along Broadway, New York, with a few friends. Mid-stroll, his friends asked him to go into a saloon and “have a ball”. Rejecting the small whisky glasses in which their drinks were served, Dewar suggested that the bartender serve them the drink in “high glasses”, so that they could have a highball!
The highball’s predecessor may have been brandy and soda, which was popular in England in the 1800s. It didn’t take long for whisky to replace brandy and for the drink to hop across the pond. By 1900, the Scotch highball was the most fashionable drink in America.
And then the Japanese stepped in
The most well-known highball is a whisky and soda; but it’s not just a whisky and soda. And for this, we have the bartenders of Japan to thank. They have been perfecting the art of this drink for nearly 100 years.
It all began in the early 20th century when Japan set about on a mission to learn and perfect distilling whisky. Soon after they ritualized every detail of serving a highball – from chilling every component (yes, even the glass), to carefully pouring the whisky to avoid disturbing the ice (which obviously must be large, hand-cut cubes). The Japanese highball is mixed with three parts water to one part whisky, and intended as a companion to food.
Garnishes are crucial too. From lemon wedges to citrus peels, the garnish is paired specifically to the personality of the spirit. Some versions don’t use ice, others have a dash of cola, and still others must be stirred 13.5 times clockwise. Talk about ritual!
Make a Highball at Home
Esquire’s 1949 Handbook for Hosts provides these instructions for making an exceptional highball:
Use a tall glass – preferably uncolored, definitely sparklingly clean, admirably narrow-mouthed so soda will not collapse ahead of schedule and fill with several large ice cubes. Next, add the liquor, then cold sparkling water. Most importantly, spare the spoon and save the drink. Silverware will kill the bubbles, and that the carbonation is enough to do the mixing job unassisted.
Here are 3 of our current favourite highballs… make sure you use the highest quality ingredients that are completely chilled before you start bartending.
A mixture of gin, soda and tonic, its origins are likely in Japan. The combination of soda and tonic make this a less-sweet cocktail which invites you to get creative and play around with its garnish to match the botanicals of the gin.
The Moscow Mule recipe dates back to World War II and is traditionally served in a copper mug to keep the cocktail super chilled even on hot days.
· 2 shots vodka
· ½ shot freshly squeezed lime juice
· 4 shots ginger beer
· Lime wedge to garnish
Classic Whisky Highball
This tall, mixed highball is a refreshing way to enjoy almost any style of whisky. While the original drink was only mixed with soda, today it is also served with sweet and spicy ginger ale.
· 2 shots whisky
· 4 to 6 shots ginger ale or soda