Time for a Drink: the Highball Recipe

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Short of simply popping open a beer or a straight slug of whiskey, there are few drinks that are less labor-intensive than the venerable highball. With Labor Day this weekend, we figured this was the perfect drink to share.

You could reasonably ask the question, “Do we really need a recipe for something so easy?” but while this simple (and flexible) mix of booze, bubbles and ice can be prepared with almost zero thought, a little care in the execution can make all the difference between a watery glass of meh and a damn refreshing drink.

A few pointers:

  • The glass: the highball was never intended to be a Big Gulp. Keep it on the small side—some suggest a 12-ounce glass, but I like mine more in the 8- to 10-ounce arena. Keeping it small means you can finish the drink while the ice is still mostly intact and the bubbles still have some gumption, instead of letting the whole thing turn into a flat, watery mess.
  • The ice: don’t be skimpy. You don’t have to pack the glass, but be generous—a tepid highball is a crappy highball.
  • The booze: be good, but not too good. Accompanied solely by club soda or ginger ale, your liquor will have some room to shine, but don’t go for the top-shelf stuff—that’s worth drinking on its own. Type of booze? That’s up to you – scotch-and-soda, brandy-and-soda, and rye-and-ginger are all classics, but as long as it’s got some age and some flavor to it, you’re good (and by the way, vodka-and-soda: what’s up with that?)
  • How much? Two ounces of liquor should suffice; as David Wondrich wrote in Esquire Drinks, “It’s better to have two pleasant belts than one knuckle-duster.” The amount of mixer is up to you, though a rule of thumb is to use at least as much mixer as liquor, but try not to go above three parts mixer to one of spirits, unless you subscribe to the “mixed drinks as flavored water” school of thought.
  • The bubbles: Keep ’em cold. Refrigerate your club soda or your ginger ale so it doesn’t immediately start challenging the ice for supremacy. And use a fresh bottle (or a freshly charged siphon) if at all possible—you want that fizz to dance, and to provide all the mixing power you need.

Oh, and the other essential? Some time to relax with your drink. It’s Labor Day weekend, and you hopefully have plenty of that coming your way.

  • 2 ounces liquor of choice: scotch, bourbon, rye, aged rum and brandy are all classics for a reason
  • 2-6 ounces chilled club soda or ginger ale, to taste
  1. Fill a highball glass with ice. Add liquor, top with club soda or ginger ale or a combination of both. Do what comes natural.

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