The highball is one of the most popular cocktail styles worldwide. The category, which in its purest form is merely a spirit plus a carbonated ingredient, includes popular drinks such as the Vodka Soda, Gin & Tonic and Scotch & Soda, as well as the Dark ’n Stormy and Paloma. While the highball may appear simple, creating a truly excellent one requires high-quality ingredients, precise proportions and flawless technique.
The key to crafting best-in-class highballs is to ensure you use balanced and complementary ingredients, premium ice, and a hand-numbingly cold carbonated beverage for optimal effervescence. You may want to read up on perfecting your highball for some inspiration.
These are six highballs to try at home, from easy two-ingredient preparations to slightly more advanced concoctions involving multiple spirits. Don’t forget: The devil is in the details.
Green Tea Highball
Green tea is the most consumed beverage in Japan, valued for its restorative properties, so it's only fitting that it’s paired with a Japanese whisky in this balanced highball. The most common type of green tea in the country is sencha, produced by picking only the youngest tea leaves, which are then steamed, rolled, and dried. In this cocktail, the tea adds a bit of body, tannin structure, and sweetness to complement the whisky. The two are then topped off with soda water for a refreshingly simple highball cocktail.
The Gin Sonic is exactly what it sounds like: a mixture of gin, soda water and tonic. Its origins are likely in Japan, where the highball reigns supreme, but it has caught fire in the U.S. in recent years. The combination of soda and tonic makes for a less-sweet cocktail than if only tonic were used, and it also allows the gin’s botanicals to shine through more. You can garnish it with a lime wheel or get creative and pair the garnish with the botanicals used in the gin.
Named after the acclaimed San Francisco restaurant where it was created, the Saison Highball is an apple-brandy-based refresher that acts as an ode to autumnal flavors. It emphasizes the importance of temperature when it comes to making the perfect highball; the blend of calvados, two apple brandies, and an apple cider requires freezing the batch of brandies, chilling the glass, and harvesting the perfect ice for optimal enjoyment.
This Tokyo-style highball, an unexpected combination of shochu, Japanese whisky, apple soda and Angostura bitters, comes straight from Washington, D.C.’s Dram & Grain. The delicate grain-forward sweetness of the shochu alongside the whisky makes for an uncommon but complementary duo, while notes of baked spiced apple from the combination of apple soda and Angostura bitters add complexity.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
This Japanese whisky highball demands perfect technique in order to boost the flavors and textures that render this simple cocktail one of the most satisfying to enjoy. As with most highballs, the quality of the ice used and the temperature of the glass, whisky and soda water are essential for optimizing the cocktail. For Japanese whisky lovers, perfecting this cocktail is an ideal way to get a taste of Tokyo’s highball culture in your own home.
Scotch & Soda
The first Scotch & Soda is said to have been served in 1895, 100 years after the first commercial carbonated beverage was created, at the late Manhattan Bar in New York City. Legend has it that English stage actor E.J. Ratcliffe inquired there about a whisky highball. It soared to maximum popularity in the 1960s, when scotch was booming in America, and has been a frequent order among bargoers ever since. If you’re looking to mix a fine scotch in a cocktail, this is arguably the best format to do so, in order to truly appreciate the nuances of the whisky.