There’s no wrong time to drink a whisky highball. This combination of whisky, club soda (or ginger ale if you prefer yours a little sweeter), and ice is equally well suited to a hot summer day, a blustery winter night, or a crisp fall afternoon. There are few drinks that can be sipped in any season quite as easily, in fact. It’s equal parts refreshing and warming — a very effervescent way to enjoy your favorite whisk(e)y.
This cocktail is also popular all over the world. One of the most well-known versions is the artistic and elegant Japanese highball. But the drink is adaptable to fit any taste — from Scotch to bourbon to rye. One of the things that makes it so globally popular is its simplicity.
“The highball is one of those drinks that proves that in bartending, as in so many things, less is more,” says Mark Tubridy, mixologist at 21 Club in New York City. “From the temperature of your glass to the clarity of your ice to the character of your whiskey and the carbonation of your soda… each factor has a profound effect on the finished cocktail.”
Since the highball works in any season, we’re making it our goal to try a few this fall. That’s why we asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us the whiskeys they use for their own unique takes on the classic cocktail.
Yamazki 12 Year Japanese Whisky
Justin Campbell, beverage director for The h.wood Group in Los Angeles
My favorite highball is a Japanese highball. Use large format ice, over carbonated soda water, a dash of Angostura bitters and an orange swath. I prefer Yamazaki 12 Year because to me it nearly drinks like a Speyside Scotch and the drink never leaves me feeling hungover the next morning (or afternoon).
Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch Whisky
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Roman Cervantes, bartender at La Pulperia in New York City
When making a highball, I like to go with Johnnie Walker Black Label. There is a smoky nature of the whisky, while it is brightened up with effervescence. It’s just a perfect combination.
Maker’s Mark Bourbon
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Mark Tubridy, mixologist at 21 Club in New York City
No culture embraces the beauty of the highball more than Japan, and their whiskeys are especially suited to this drink. Toki is certainly a classic example of a light Japanese whiskey that works perfectly for the cocktail. That being said, while creating the Torrie Cup for the Breeders’ Cup, I had plenty of opportunities to play around with Maker’s Mark Bourbon and found that it made a fantastic domestic highball because of the smoothness of its flavor profile.
Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Scotch Whisky
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Miles Macquarrie, co-owner and beverage director at Kimball House in Atlanta
A scotch or malt whiskey is best—one that has a nice, bright fruit quality. Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s from Scotland is a good one. Compass Box is an American guy who lives in England and makes Scottish whisky. This one super balanced, super light, and has nice fruit notes and texture.
Trevor Alderson, bartender at Blue Smoke in New York City
I would go for something relatively high proof and not too sweet — so that the mixer complements the whiskey rather than dilutes it. I also would keep myself on the low end of the budget. There’s no reason to shell out for George T Stagg if you’re going to dump ginger ale into it.
Roknar Rye would be a good choice for the price, or Wild Turkey Rare Breed if you prefer bourbon.
Springbank 10 Year Scotch Whisky
Keith Zintakmon, bartdner at JRDN in San Diego
This question is in the eyes of the imbiber. Not only is the choice of whiskey important but so is everything else that goes into the drink. What type of ice are you using, what is the temperature of the soda/spirit/glass, what quality sparkling water are you using, what is your ratio? Generally, Japanese whiskey works well because it is a softer more nuanced style of whiskey, providing more floral and fragrant notes. I also enjoy a lightly peated scotch like Springbank 10 in my highballs.
Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon
Jon Baer, manager of beverage and bakery operations at The Cheesecake Factory Incorporated
Four Roses Small Batch. A high ball should be light, crisp and refreshing. The slightly elevated proof of the Small Batch allows the flavor of the bourbon to shine through the soda without being overpowering. Easy drinking and a great way to enjoy bourbon on a hot summer afternoon.
High West Campfire Whiskey
Lauren Mathews, lead bartender at Urbana in Washington, DC
I really enjoy High West Campfire. I love Scotch in a highball and Campfire has that beautiful smoke that just really makes the simple cocktail come alive.
Suntory Toki Japanese Whisky
Amy Wong, lead bartender at King Tide Fish & Shell in Portland, Oregon
When making an authentic highball, I always use Suntory Toki. It has orchard fruit and vanilla notes that pairs great with soda. And if you want to level it up, add your choice of mineral springs sparkling water instead of club soda.
Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon
Adam Cornelius, director of operations at Little Beet Table in Greenwich Connecticut
When making a proper highball, I would suggest Wild Turkey Rare Breed. It is a barrel strength bourbon that packs a punch by itself, so when you dilute it in a highball it becomes much more elegant and aromatic.
Hakushu 12 Japanese Whisky
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Liam Deegan, partner at Barrel Proof in New Orleans
I like something lighter but with some sort of high-toned profile. Toki obviously works great as it is light, has some floral quality and good acid with the bubbles. Before Toki came into the market, and before it was prohibitively expensive and sacrilegious to drink in a highball, Hakushu 12 was a good go-to. It’s got light, tea-like flavor with a touch of smoke to make it interesting. We carbonated and bottled it to sell as a bottled highball for the first Barrel Proof menu, but highballs weren’t too popular back then.
Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon
Cheston Overman, lead bartender at Bookstore Bar & Café in Seattle
I prefer Elijah Craig Small Batch for a highball because it has a nice, aggressive flavor that holds up when diluted with soda.
Kaiyo Japanese Whisky
Alec Barber-Grossi, bartender at Accomplice Bar in Los Angeles
When I make a highball, I prefer a Japanese whiskey like Kaiyo. The whiskeys are already light and floral and exactly what you’re looking for when you want a light, refreshing drink.
Writer’s Pick: Ardbeg 10
While I appreciate the artistry of the Japanese highball, I’m a big fan of Scotch-based highballs. And I love peated Scotches, especially those from Islay. That’s why I like to go with Ardbeg 10 when making my highball. It has the right amount of smoke and malty sweetness to pair well with the bubbly club soda.