In The Shaker: The Highball

The epitome of simplicity, the Highball dates back to the 18th century and variations can be found all over the world. Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller explore the history of this cocktail-menu staple

Adapted from The Fine
Art of Mixing Drinks by David A Embury, 1948

Glass: Large bar glass, mug or Moscow Mule copper mug
Garnish: None
Method: Place one or two cubes of ice in the glass or mug. Add the vodka and lime juice, and fill with chilled ginger beer (not ginger ale).
60ml vodka
Juice of a medium-sized lime
Ginger beer to top

With its quenching one-part spirit to two-parts carbonated soft drink, the Highball defines the word ‘simple’. Highballs are the great equalisers that pair familiarity and popularity throughout the global drinking field. The ritual preparation of the Whisky Highball (called Mizuwari) is as engrained in Japanese culture as the toasting of Pimm’s Cups and G&Ts in Britain on a warm summer day. So where did it all start? Britain, of course.

Soon after Jacob Schweppe and former rival Nicholas Paul opened their Covent Garden soda-water factory in 1790, sparkling punch became the toast of London, with the Garrick Club Punch and Limmer’s Gin Punch quenching thirsts across the West End. Then, in the 1840s, Billingsgate shellfishmonger James Pimm served up his special Gin Cup with sparkling lemonade and garnished with fresh, cucumber-y borage as a digestive accompaniment to the oysters and shellfish at his London oyster bars. But even this familiar concoction bows to the effervescent glory that is the G&T.

The perfect match
Gin and tonic is a match made in heaven. Tonic water was, essentially, the first soft drink to be made from soda water and tonic syrup. Sold commercially since the 1850s, when Schweppes and other producers capitalised on the quinine trend, the G&T overtook its predecessors, the Gin Punch and the Collins. Although the recipe differs from venue to venue and even country to country (Spain and Portugal have elevated the G&T into an elaborate art form), the G&T still serves as a common denominator found in nearly every British eatery and drinking den.

Some people say that the Scotch Highball (aka: Scotch & Soda) was a British export introduced, in 1894, by actor Edward J Ratcliffe when he travelled to New York. Others claim its birth occurred at a Boston hotel bar. But it wasn’t the only version that made headlines at the end of the century. The American-born Mamie Taylor (a Scotch Highball made with ginger ale and lime juice) first made the news in 1899, when the drink was prepared for Miss Taylor, the prima donna of a travelling opera company that was playing one summer at Ontario Beach, New York.

Adapted from the Maison Fichl menu, circa 1920sGlass: Highball
Garnish: Maraschino cherry
Method: Fill glass with cracked ice. Add the Scotch whisky and lime juice. Fill with ginger beer.
50ml Scotch whisky
20ml fresh lime juice
Ginger beer to top

Ginger invasion
Vodka invaded American shores in the 1930s, with the Russian government exporting cases and Rudolph Kunett (in partnership with John G Martin) producing a domestic version. Enter British restaurateur Jack Morgan, who owned the Cock‘n’Bull in Hollywood. Missing the ginger beer he loved so much back home, he produced a few hundred cases after he returned stateside.

Arriving in New York in 1941, he met his friends Martin and Kunett at the Chatham Hotel Bar where they hatched a marketing plan and a drink. The Moscow Mule was born. (A modern-day variation created by Audrey Saunders called the Gin-Gin Mule has taken this classic and given it an upgrade with a dry gin base and a touch of fresh mint.)

We could go on for pages about the merits of other Highball family members such as the Dark‘n’Stormy, Gin Rickey, Cubata and Cognac Soda, but we think you’ve got the message. Nestled between the list of house cocktails and premium pours by the shot, there should be a page dedicated to these workhorses of the bar – the Highballs.

Gin & Tonic: Three different ways

Glass: Large goblet
Garnish: A long lemon twist cut with a channel knife
Method: Fill the glass halfway with large ice cubes. Stir to chill the glass, then strain off the melt water. Add either 50ml or an indiscriminate, generous free-pour of gin. Pour the tonic water down the spirals of a bar spoon or over the back of the spoon to land it gently into the drink.
50ml gin
Fresh tonic water

Garnish: Lemon or lime wedge
Method: Place gin in glass.
Add two or three small ice cubes. Fill with tonic.
25ml dry gin
Fresh tonic water

Glass: Highball
Garnish: Lemon or lime wedge
Method: Fill glass with large ice cubes. Add gin and top with chilled tonic water. Garnish with lemon or lime as specified by the customer. Place the bottle of tonic next to the glass for the drinker to adjust it as desired.
50ml gin
50-100ml chilled tonic water

Idle hands
Deep in the heart of Bath, there is a new place that kicks up its heels with comprehensible creative cocktails, local brews, ciders and fresh ingredients, a fabulous playlist, and the kind of atmosphere that makes you feel great about being a grown-up sipper. Sam Kershaw and Louis Xavier Lewis-Smith have brought hospitality to the Bath bar scene with a delectable passion for crafting seasonally relevant specialities. Kershaw’s Idle Hands fits that bill, stirring together 45ml Wild Turkey 81, 15ml 3-year-old Somerset cider brandy, 10ml Amaro CioCiaro, 10ml demerara syrup, three dashes Angostura Bitters and three dashes chocolate bitters. Strain into a rocks glass with a block of ice and garnish with an orange twist.

Photo: Stephen Lenthall. Drink styling by Troels Knudsen, glassware by Artis, mule copper mug Urban Bar

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