When the weather warms up, many of us instantly grab for bottles of vodka, gin, tequila, and rum. We just assume that sunny, hot days were made for cocktails using these spirits. But, if we do that, we’re missing out on one of the best warm-weather refreshers ever invented: the whiskey highball.
So, what is a whiskey highball? The whiskey highball is a tall drink made with whiskey, ice, a lime wedge, and your choice of ginger ale, soda, water, seltzer, or pretty much any sparkling water you enjoy. It’s simple, delicious, and always refreshing, especially when the sun’s out.
You’d also be remised to forget to mention Japan when enjoying a whiskey highball. When many people think of this thirst-quenching drink, they’re thoughts instantly go to Japan. Suntory founder Shinjiro Torii opened a chain of whisky highball bars referred to as “Torys” all over Japan more than 60 years ago. In recent years, the Japanese version has seen a bit of a resurgence with Suntory Toki being the go-to whisky for true fans of the drink.
Since we’re all about broadening our horizons whenever possible, we asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us their go-to whiskeys to mix into a whisk(e)y highball.
Zack Musick, beverage director at Merriman’s Hawaii
My personal favorite is Sazerac Rye because it complements the ginger ale in a classic highball. But if you decide just to use soda water, Sazerac has enough complexity to keep the drink exciting.
Shackleton Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
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Sunday evening drinks 🥃🥃🥃. Enjoying a Shackleton on ice 🧊 next to a nice little fire🔥. A whisky for those who are born adventurous!! _____________________________________________________________ @theshackletonwhisky #shackletonwhisky @whyte.mackay #whyteandmackay #abrandbewdaydrinks #blendedmalt #blendedmaltscotchwhisky #ernestshackleton #mackinlaysshackleton #sundayeveningdrinks #🥃 #whiskyontherocks #whiskyonice #❄️
Christopher Chamberlain, national beverage development manager at E. & J. Gallo Winery in Modesto, California
I love a good blended scotch & soda. Shackleton Blended Malt Scotch Whisky is a beautifully crafted spirit. When combined with Q Mixers Light Ginger Beer, it offers both a hint of smoke and ginger spice for a very refreshing highball. Add the expressed citrus oils of a freshly cut lemon peel to create a bright aromatic to mirror those sunny summer days.
Heaven Hill Bourbon
Kenneth McCoy, chief creative officer at The Rum House in New York City
Heaven Hill Bourbon 80 proof is perfect for the summer. It’s everything you want in bourbon but at a mild 80 proof. It won’t beat you up, making it perfect with ginger ale as a summer refresher.
Crown Royal Apple
Robert Swain Jr., owner of OnTheRoX Bartending Services in the British Virgin Islands
A glass of Crown Royal Apple a day keeps the doctor away! Talk about refreshing, Crown Apple and ginger ale is a perfect combination for the summer with its sweet and tart flavors.
Anna Mains, brand ambassador at Monkey Shoulder
Monkey Shoulder highballs are my go-to. Monkey Shoulder is made for mixing, so the bubbles from the soda really bring out the orange, ginger, and vanilla notes from the whisky. If you want to be a baller, Monkey Shoulder is pretty much a slam dunk.
James Simpson, beverage director at Espita in Washington, DC
Toki Japanese Whisky from House Suntory is the perfect whisky for highball sippin’ this Summer. It’s slightly malty, subtle, and one of those bottles that shows you new layers drink after drink. Experiment with the sparkling water to find that perfect combination. I recommend starting (or ending) with Topo Chico from Mexico.
West Fork All Or Nothing
Jacob Cantu, tasting room manager for West Fork Whiskey Co. in Indianapolis
West Fork Whiskey Co.’s All or Nothing Corn Whiskey mixes perfectly with soda water and a splash of lemon for the perfect highball. With 100 percent corn in the mash bill, the sweetness comes through minimizing the whiskey intensity. The perfect refreshing combo for summer.
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Which one would you choose?! 😂 Excited to crack open another #HibikiHarmony Looking for Masters Select and Blenders Choice so on the hunt for those rn #JapaneseWhisky #Hibiki #Hibiki17 #Suntory #SuntoryWhisky #whisky #whiskyhunter #whiskycollector #whiskyhunting #whiskyinvestor
Hayden Miller, head bartender at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami
Once you mix it into an ice-filled Collins glass topped with soda, you’ll know why. This whiskey exudes smoothness.
Tim Wiggins, co-owner and beverage director of Yellowbelly in St. Louis
Hakushu 12 Japanese whisky is an obvious but stunning whisky to use in a highball. I don’t typically like American whiskey highballs so I would stay away from bourbon. For a budget highball that tastes expensive, I would recommend a Highland Queen highball.
Hudson Manhattan Rye
David Powell, brand ambassador at Tuthilltown Spirits
I usually make myself a Manhattan-style highball with Hudson Manhattan Rye, sweet vermouth, lime juice, ginger, and soda. It’s almost like a mule highball with the added layer of sweet vermouth to expand the flavor profile a little bit. I’m probably going to be enjoying my fair share of those this summer on my terrace.
Cathead Old Soul Bourbon
Todd Johnston, beverage director for QED in Nashville
Cathead, which is one of my favorite small southern distilleries out of Mississippi, recently released its bourbon. Their bread and butter is their vodka but this bourbon, named Old Soul, is fruity and crushable and would be great for an easy-drinking highball.