The Best Whiskies For Your Summer Highball, According To Bartenders

We can debate for hours what the best summer cocktail is. In general, it’s all about taste. If you don’t enjoy the juniper-centric flavor of gin, you probably won’t spend the warmer months craving gin and tonics. If you’re not into tequila and grapefruit, a paloma probably isn’t your jam. If the thought of drinking Campari conjures up images of the numbing agent used at your childhood dentist’s office, you should probably steer clear of the classic Negroni. But if you enjoy the sweet, malty taste of whisky and crave refreshment as well, the classic whisky highball should be your summer go-to (or your year-round go-to).

“The highball is a simple cocktail with generally two ingredients: whiskey, and soda water,” Jacob Mata, bar manager at Garden & Grain in Pensacola, Florida, tells us. He adds, “Choosing the right kind of whisky is very important when crafting this cocktail. You want to pick a whiskey that’s full of flavor but also delicate enough to be enjoyed in this style.”

While nobody is going to tell you not to use bourbon, rye, Irish, or Canadian whiskies as the base for your whisky highball, most bartenders agree that to truly get the most out of this drink, you need to use Japanese or Scotch whisky.

To find the best of those two styles, we once again went to the professionals behind the bar for help. We tasked them with telling us their favorite Japanese or Scotch whiskies to mix into a whisky highball. Check out all of their answers below and click on the prices if you want to try one of these yourself.

Yamazaki 12 Japanese Whisky


Scott Wenger, bartender at The Continental in Tampa

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $165

Why This Whisky?

While its cost is probably prohibitive, Yamazaki 12 is one of the finest whiskeys in the world and a great base for a whisky highball. I would jump at the opportunity to enjoy a glass of it in any way shape or form whether neat or mixed with soda water to create a refreshing, summery drink.

Johnnie Walker Black Label Blended Scotch

johnnie Walker

Benjamin Pozar, Bartender at Fogo de Chao in Dallas

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $39

Why This Whisky?

Layers are important and I like a good, blended Scotch whisky in my highball. A bit of Johnnie Walker Black Label with Pellegrino and lemon peel is heaven on earth. There are plenty of whiskies that go with standard club soda, but I like finer bubbles with citrus oil and a kiss of smoke.

Monkey Shoulder Blended Scotch

Monkey Shoulder

Andy Shannon, co-founder of Candra Drinks in London

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $35

Why This Whisky?

Monkey Shoulder is a relatively new blended Scotch and has been created to mix into cocktails, making it a really strong candidate for a whisky highball. It has creamy fruity notes that are highlighted by the effervescence of sparkling water.

Glenfiddich 12 Single Malt Scotch


Anna Lazaridis, bartender at Home Team BBQ in Charleston, South Carolina

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $50

Why This Whisky?

I prefer Glenfiddich 12 for my highballs. Speyside Scotch whiskies are very smooth and approachable, which is what I like in a highball. Glenfiddich 12 is reasonably priced and definitely works perfectly in this refreshing drink.

Ichiro’s Malt: Malt & Grain Japanese World Blend Whisky


Daniel Yang, lead bartender at Rosina inside The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas

ABV: 46.5%

Average Price: $110

Why This Whisky?

Ichiro’s Malt and Grain Whisky is an “all-world whisky” containing a blend of many of the world’s most notable whiskies, so you’ll still find your familiar flavor notes from scotch, rye, and bourbon all in one bottle. It has a beautiful nose of peach and some apricot, followed by a blend of vanilla and butterscotch. Its palate has prominent notes of toffee and malt and a finish of gingerbread and a hint of tropical fruits. Top it off with a high-quality club soda and you have yourself a mighty fine highball.

Hibiki 12 Japanese Whisky


Adam Mason, cocktail specialist at LouVino in Louisville

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $119

Why This Whisky?

Hibiki 12-Year-Old is hard to beat as a base for a whisky highball. In the simplest terms, it’s just amazing with notes of candied orange peels, caramel, and a nutty sweetness that all work well in the drink. Nothing needs to be said about this other than try it.

Suntory Toki Japanese Whisky


Ilan Chartor, head bartender at MILA in Miami

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $40

Why This Whisky?

Suntory Toki, no question. Mild peat and light fruit notes make it a great classic highball base but also a great play on highball base because of its versatility. We use it at MILA in our “Spring in Osaka” cocktail which has Suntory Toki, lychee-elderflower cordial, smoked cardamom essence, and club soda.

Nikka Yoichi Japanese Whisky


Juan Diego, lead bartender at Osaka Nikkei in Miami

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $99

Why This Whisky?

Nikka Yoichi Japanese Whisky plays perfectly with our vision of what a highball should be at Osaka Nikkei Miami. For us, using simple flavors such as house-smoked ginger ale, a perfect Collins spear, and fresh lemon swath combined with notes of shiso salt brings us the perfect Nikkei highball.

Mossburn Speyside Blended Scotch Whisky


Joel Ortega owner and founder of Timber & Blues in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $40

Why This Whisky?

Mossburn Blended Scotch Whisky ticks all the boxes for a great whisky highball with flavors like oak, sherry, and vanilla. Maybe I’m crazy but it kind of has a mezcal after taste and I love mezcal.

Glenmorangie X Single Malt Scotch


Young Kim, beverage director at Fine & Rare in New York City

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $36

Why This Whisky?

Glenmorangie X is a new expression made especially for mixing. The flavor is full of orange zest and some pear, chocolate, and ginger. Try with a premium brand of club soda and garnish with orange peel.

Mars Iwai Japanese Whisky

Mars Shinshu

Ryan Anderson, complex director of beverage at Ace Hotel in New Orleans

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $37

Why This Whisky?

I prefer the clean taste of Mars Iwai Distillery Whisky located in the Alps of Japan. Mars is the highest altitude distillery in all of Japan and they use water coming from natural springs and streams coming out of the mountains surrounding the distillery. I like the texture of their whisky; It’s very naturally oily and viscous, which is great for mixing with club soda.

Hibiki Japanese Harmony Japanese Whisky


Matt Nicholas, bar manager for The Kennedy Bar in Pensacola, Florida

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $90

Why This Whisky?

Hibiki Japanese Harmony from Suntory is my choice for a traditional highball. With a balance of malt and subtle honey, Hibiki Harmony sticks to the Japanese tradition of a smooth soft approachable whisky.

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