Once upon a time, humans roamed the earth’s bars and restaurants guzzling down any fizzy water they could get their hands on. It was called seltzer, and at the press of a button, it traveled magically from a tiny gun straight into your cocktail. The quality was poor and the drinks often likewise.
Today’s drinkers are much more discerning. Over the past few years, sparkling water has blossomed into a multibillion-dollar business, with more new brands popping up than there are mispronunciations of LaCroix. But not all are created equal, and even fewer are worthy of locking arms with your overpriced Japanese whisky.
To crown the best bubbly, we put 11 popular sparklers through the highball challenge. This being Liquor.com’s challenge, we made the rules. Rule number one: no flavored fizzy. As much as you might shotgun cans of pamplemousse at home, it has no place in a highball.
From there, we mixed 11 identical cocktails at a ratio of two-parts soda to one-part whisky (we used Suntory Toki). We then scored each drink on the basis of taste, carbonation and shelf life, or how the cocktail held up over time, and ranked the fizzy waters from worst to best. If this all sounds a bit gassy, it’s because we take our highballs very seriously. And so should you.
11. Crystal Geyser ($5 for 18-oz 4-pack)
If you like your fizzy water sans fizz, stop reading. One of the cheapest bottles of the bunch, this one fell asleep right out of the gate. The few bubbles that appeared were tired, tasteless and gone within seconds. It’s more geezer than geyser.
10. S. Pellegrino ($10 for 17-oz 12-pack)
We honestly expected more from the Italian bubbly behemoth, but nothing about it lived up to the reputation. The carbonation was weak and the mineral content basically nonexistent. After a minute or two, it drank like well scotch and water.
9. Voss ($12 for 11.15-oz 12-pack)
It’s a Shake Weight. No, it’s a rolling pin. No, it’s a tall Norwegian man stroking your hair beneath the strobe of a Las Vegas nightclub. Voss is a lot of things to a lot of people, but here’s what it’s not: a good highball soda. Insufficient carbonation, insufficient flavor. Cool bottle, though.
8. Perrier ($16 for 16.9-oz 24-pack)
There was a time when ordering a Perrier was the most French thing you could do besides smoke cigarettes and eat steak frites. Unfortunately, those days are gone, and all we’re left with is a middle-of-the-pack mixer. It’s a little fizzy, a little dry but mostly forgettable.
7. LaCroix ($4 for 12-oz 12-pack)
Unflavored LaCroix is the Stephen Baldwin of sparkling beverages: It’s hard to stomach knowing there are better versions in their own family. Though the carbonation held up fine, the water leveled a slight sweetness that dulled the whisky.
6. Mountain Valley ($35 for 750-mL 12-pack)
From the thick one-liter glass bottle to the Old West–looking label, everything about this bubbly screams winner. Carbonation was better than average, with tight medium-size bubbles. The biggest knock against it is its too-subtle minerality, which never quite finds its way to the whisky.
5. Q ($4 for 7.5-oz 4-pack)
The self-dubbed “spectacular club soda,” Q mixes a damn solid highball. It’s also a damn salty one. As much as we were impressed by its carbonation and long shelf life, the “dash of Himalayan salt” overpowered the honey flavors in the Toki.
4.Canada Dry ($5 for 12-oz 12-pack)
You know it more for its ginger ale, but Canada Dry also does a good club soda. Upside: It has tons of carbonation with large bubbles that shoot through the glass as if trying to escape a police raid. Downside: There’s a faint artificial flavor that leaves a chalky aftertaste on the roof of your mouth.
3. Schweppes ($5 for 12-oz 12-pack)
When the name of your fizzy water actually sounds like gas bubbles hissing in the glass, you know you’re doing something right. Schweppes is generously carbonated. It’s full of crisp, refreshing minerals that cradle, rather than crowd, the cocktail. And Schweppes costs a fraction of most boutique bubblies on the market. Perfect high-value highball.
2. Topo Chico ($2 for 12-oz bottle)
A relative newcomer to the American sparkle-sphere, this longtime Mexican brand is the darling of the cocktail world. And no wonder: It packs a huge mineral punch to go along with its absurdly large long-lasting bubbles. (Amazingly, the drink somehow retained its carbonation even after the ice melted.) Still, something about Topo was slightly out of step with the Toki. In the end, it was just a tiny bit too loud and salty for our delicate highball.
1. Fever-Tree ($7 for 6.8-oz 4-pack)
At almost 30 cents per fluid ounce, Fever-Tree feels like a splurgy celebrity seltzer, albeit one that totally delivers. It earned high marks across the board for flavor, fizz and finish. Even its self-described “Champagne bubbles” seemed legit. As were its subtle citrus and floral notes, which mingled nicely with the whisky, turning a simple two-ingredient cocktail into something brighter, zestier and more nuanced. Celebrities are celebrities for a reason.