What Is A Highball?

Highballs are some of the simplest types of cocktails you can find. This iconic drink consists of a base spirit and a carbonated beverage, like tonic water, seltzer, or soda

Unlike many other mixed drinks, highballs don’t traditionally contain citrus fruit juice. However, in recent years, some bartenders have made an exception to this rule.

The ratio of alcohol to the carbonated beverage will depend on the drinker’s preference, but typically, you can expect a shot or two of the base spirit to be added.

The word “highball” is also used to describe the glass this cocktail is served in. These cocktails are served in narrow, tall glasses filled with ice. You may hear people refer to this cocktail as a “short drink served tall.” 

A lot of people are unaware that a majority of mixed drinks are actually highballs. Many classic cocktails are categorized as a highball, including Rum and Coke, Scotch and Soda, Gin and Tonic, and Vodka and Seven.

Every bartender should know how to make a variety of highballs. It is one of the most basic but enjoyable ways to mix drinks, and any bar is sure to have plenty of patrons asking for them. 

There are a million ways to make a highball. Ever heard of an Irish buck? It’s a highball that utilizes Irish whiskey instead of regular whiskey. This is just one example of how you can experiment with this drink. 

Keep reading below with Saucey to find out everything you need to know about the highball cocktail. 

History of the highball

Several theories attempt to explain how this classic drink was invented.

One of these theories suggests that the highball was created at a Manhattan bar in the late 19th century. This word was also used in golf club bars in England to refer to any whiskey served in a tall glass.

Another claims that the drink comes from a 19th-century railroad signal. In the American railroad system, if a ball was lifted on the signal post, incoming trains could pass through without stopping. The concept of getting somewhere fast was translated to the highball cocktail, one of the quickest and easiest drinks to make.

Since then, the highball has evolved significantly, starting out as a whiskey watered down with soda, then becoming a whiskey watered down with water, and finally, a whiskey watered down with ginger ale. 

Years later, bartenders would begin mixing Scotch with soda, which would replace the whiskey cocktail as the most popular highball. In 1949, the highball was deemed the “high priest of tall drinks” in Esquire magazine.

Today, there are endless renditions of this old drink, both with and without whiskey. Over time, the highball came to be known as any alcoholic spirit mixed with a carbonated beverage. 

Preparing your highball

Ready to make your own highball from home? It’s easier than you could ever imagine. 

First, you’re going to want to find a proper glass to serve your highball in. As mentioned before, this drink should be served in a skinny, tall glass. 

This vessel allows the aromas of the drink to shoot straight upward, creating a potent scent. The shape of this glass also protects the structure of the bubbles. 

Start out by filling up your glass about three-quarters of the way full with ice. At the top of the glass, you should have about five to six ounces of space to work with. 

After this step:

  1. Pour between 1-2 ounces of your base spirit.
  2. Fill the rest of the glass with a carbonated beverage.

Stir lightly for good measure, then garnish.

It is crucial to stir and not to shake your drink, as shaking can cause your drink to fizz out and overflow. We’ve all experienced what it’s like to open a shaken can of soda before. Not fun.

Go for a carbonated beverage that has some sharp fizz. It’s recommended to use bottled club sodas like Q or Fever-Tree. Generic club sodas will work also, but they won’t provide the bubbles that these sodas will. 


Switching it up

The recipe for most highballs is very straightforward. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun and play around with your ratios.

The alcohol to carbonated beverage ratio for your average highball is usually about 1:2. You can easily stretch this out and use a 1:4 ratio. This will lower the alcohol content of the drink by about 5%. 

When you reduce the ratio to 1:4, your highball becomes a more casual, sipping drink than an intense cocktail. Like this, you can enjoy your highball as if it were a glass of beer or wine.

The Whiskey Highball

The whiskey highball is one of the most famous cocktails that involve whiskey. It’s also one of the most delicious.

Originally, this cocktail was mixed with soda water in the late 1800s, but it is now mostly made with ginger ale.

All you need to make this drink is some whiskey and ginger ale. The soda’s sweet flavor and fizzy texture are a perfect accent to whiskey. 

You don’t even have to mix them together like you would for a traditional cocktail. The carbonation of the ginger ale will naturally mix in with the alcohol of the whiskey. 

Any type of whiskey can be turned into a highball. Whether you’re a fan of blended, Bourbon, Canadian, or rye, they all blend very well with ginger ale. 

The Gin and Tonic

This is another storied cocktail with centuries of history behind it. The gin and tonic is a refreshing drink, ideal for hot summer days on the patio or beach. 

The tonic provides a bitterness that complements the botanical notes of the gin. It really helps bring out the flavors of the juniper. 

To make this drink, use two ounces of gin for every can of tonic water. You can play around with the ratios, but this is a good starting point. 

Garnish your drink with a lemon or lime wedge. 

A fun feature of this cocktail is that it glows under black light. The tonic water literally helps this drink shine. If you’re in a nightclub with this drink, expect some jealous stares from others.

The 7 & 7

The key to a great highball is simplicity. And it doesn’t get much simpler than the 7 & 7.

This mixed drink utilizes two ingredients: Seagram’s 7 Crown Whiskey and 7up lemon-lime soda. Unlike other cocktails, this drink calls for specificity in its ingredients. Don’t try to substitute either of them, or else you’ll ruin the recipe. 

It feels like this whiskey and this soda were made for each other. The smooth, creamy texture of the whiskey, mixed with the spritz, sweet taste of the 7up, is a match made in heaven.

This cocktail is known as an energy booster. If you’re out drinking and feel yourself start to burn out, this is the drink to have. 

The takeaway

Who would’ve thought such a simple recipe could pave the way for so many great cocktails? Without a doubt, a highball is one of the most influential styles of mixed drinks in the world.

If you consider yourself a cocktail connoisseur, you’ve probably already had a highball before and don’t even know it. 

One of the biggest appeals of this drink is that you can make it easily from the comfort of your home. You don’t need any fancy bartending skills or equipment to create a delicious highball. 

The world of cocktails is your playground. So get creative. Mess around with your ingredients and see what decadent masterpieces you can create.

For a wide selection of spirits and carbonated beverages, check out Saucey. We’ve got everything you need to concoct the perfect highball. And best of all, we deliver it straight to your door.

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