Editor's note: August 16 is National Rum Day!
One might think that building the highball, a sparkler of a beverage high on effervescence and drinkability, is a simple process. A jangle of ice cubes, a splash of spirits, a sploosh of mixer, a squeeze of citrus—done. Simple. Ah, but I beg to add a few notes.
Like any beautifully mixed cocktail, flavors within can take on primary and secondary characteristics depending upon ratio. Botanicals within a gin or a whiskey can be elevated or diffused, and certainly “garbage” ice scooped from a traditional ice machine will impact beverage longevity far sooner than a stacked trio of solidly frozen cubes. The highball is quick to assemble, but only with the proper ingredients and ratios will it sing.
Developed in the late 1800s and first mentioned within a recipe book, The Mixicologist by Chris Lawlor in 1895, highballs were originally a spirit (namely whiskey) with seltzer topper, served over a single cube.
A hundred years later, guests are yelling, “Whiskey soda! G&T! Rum & Coke! Sea Breeze!” across the bar. With a well bottle from the speed rack, a shot from the soda gun, and a squeeze of citrus cut three hours prior, bar scene highballs have lost a lot of their nuanced beauty and credibility. Let’s break down what you need to have to create a perfectly executed highball.
The tall and narrow highball glass should accommodate anywhere from six to just over nine ounces of liquid. Any more than that and you are venturing into Collins territory, which is a solid nope in my book. Too much capacity in a glass will lead to an overabundance of mixer to top off the beverage, placing your ratios at peril.
Sit with me at a bar someday and you will note how opinionated I am about my ice. It is the most important ingredient in a cocktail. The wrong ice will ruin an otherwise top-notch tipple. “Garbage” ice, as mentioned earlier, looks as if it’s melting straight out of the scoop, has a high level of oxygen, are very small, and have indents or a hole in the middle of the cube. A cocktail shaken with this kind of ice leads to higher dilution; a cocktail (such as a highball) sitting in it is doomed. Use the clearest ice you can find (clear = less impurities…impurities also ruin the flavor), solidly constructed, and straight from the freezer.
A chilled spirit is always the best for a highball, but beyond that, keep the unique properties of the spirit in mind, as some whiskeys (for example) may blossom with a ginger carbonate, while others are more suited for still water or seltzer.
Mixer or carbonate
Always use the best water in your seltzer bottles, the most freshly squeezed of juices, the finest tonics and gingers. If you must use a soda gun, make sure the lines are flushed at least quarterly, the gun and holster cleaned daily.
Beyond the aesthetic that can elevate the highball to Instagram star, a garnish can accentuate, complement, or contrast with the cocktail flavors. Beware of overaccentuating, however. Using juniper berries to garnish a juniper forward gin such as a London Dry, or lime with your Tanqueray Rangpur makes little sense, a la gilding the lily. Garnishes can enhance flavor from oil expressed from the peel, mouthfeel from the crunch of a dried orange wheel, and visual appeal from the beauty of an edible flower. It can also delightfully confuse the nose with a contrasting scent.
To stir or not to stir? Most bartenders agree: when the highball is built properly, no stirring, or a whisper of a stir is all that is required if its mixer is a carbonate. Stirring only serves to tamp down the bubbles. As the bubbles rise and move in the glass they will naturally give the beverage a little assist in mixing, all on their own.
Photo & recipe courtesy G’Vine Gin
In the world of gin cocktails the gin sling stands out for its impressive diversity of ingredients, including cherry liqueur, Cointreau, Benedictine, and, of course, gin.
1 oz G’Vine Gin Floraison™
½ oz Cherry Heering
4 oz pineapple juice
½ oz lime juice
¼ oz Cointreau
¼ oz Benedictine
1–2 T grenadine
1 dash Angostura aromatic bitters
- Add all ingredients to a mixer, shake with ice, and pour in a highball. Garnish with ice and a cherry.
Photo & recipe courtesy Pinch Food Design
Ginger Kumquat Fizz/Bourbon Mule
This simple and refreshing beverage is an approachable, quick to construct, budget-friendly, and yet surprisingly complex given it has just three ingredients (not counting the ice, of course).
2 oz Old Forester – barrel infused
4 oz ginger beer
½ oz lime juice – fresh
- Add ice to highball, build your cocktail with lime juice, then spirit, and finally top with ginger beer. Garnish with fresh ginger and a kumquat.
Photo courtesy G’Vine Gin
This cocktail, created by mixologist Gegam Kazarian, combines gin, white vermouth, and peach liqueur with lime, honey and syrup for a refreshing yet complex highball. Served with lots of ice, this is a perfect summer sipper that can be decorated with an edible flower or lime peel for an elegant garnish.
1½ oz G’Vine Gin Floraison™
¾ oz June® Wild Peach liqueur
1 oz La Quintinye Vermouth Royal® Blanc
1 oz lime syrup
1 T honey
½ T fresh ginger juice
- Add all ingredients to a mixer, shake and pour in a highball with ice. Top with soda water and garnish with a ginger slice, a lime twist, and a seasonal flower if available.