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It’s Time You Learned The Art Of Making Highballs And Mixed Drinks


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This week — in our pursuit to help you master all things drinks — we’re tackling the world of the highball and the mixed drink. This is often where bar menus get a little confusing for the uninitiated (and even shitty bartenders). Drinks are generally broken down into categories. You have your cocktails, sours, juleps, punches, fizzes, and so forth. And then there’s always that menu — usually at the back of the book — for “mixed drinks” or “long drinks” or, if the bar knows what it’s doing, “highballs.”

These are the simple unsung heroes of most bars. They’re also the drinks that end up getting ordered the most. Why? Because sometimes you don’t want to wait ten minutes for a mixologist to shake that martini. A highball is a two ingredient drink of a base spirit and a carbonated mixer. It’s supposed to be served in a highball glass over ice. And it’ll have various garnishes to accentuate the drink. It’s fast and easy; down and dirty.

A ‘mixed drink’ generally adds in one more ingredient to the base plus a carbonated mixer. This is often a dash or two of bitters or a splash of citrus. Mixed drinks will come in a variety of different glasses or cups depending on the drink. That’s really all you need to know on a basic level.

Where these drinks get interesting is in the ingredients. More often than not, “well drinks” mostly fall into this category. That means you’re getting the rail liquor mixed with whatever carbonated sugar water is coming out of the soda gun behind the bar (always assume the soda gun is a watered down mix).

Recently, the resurgence of the gin and tonic has sparked a new era of high-end, well-crafted sodas and tonics in single serving glass bottles. Personally, I’m a big fan of soda brands like Franklin & Sons. They’ve been around for over 100 years (so they know what they’re doing) and they like to innovate by bringing in new flavors. The price point may be a little higher, but you’re paying for a product that earns the higher price through quality crafting.

Also remember that the lower the price of your mixer, the higher the sugar content. It’s also important to note that club soda/soda water is often just tap water that’s been hit with secondary carbonation to make it fizzy. Single serving mineral water should be naturally carbonated and often is more… well… mineral-y.


Secondly, learn your booze. If you like a gin, whisk(e)y, rum, brandy or whatever on its own, you will like it in a highball or mixed drink. With the exception of single cask spirits (that is, unblended and likely aged for decades) most spirits are meant to be mixed with something. Think about how much better an old fashioned is with your favorite whiskey and apply that to your next mixed drink. Trust us a Cuba Libre with excellent rum is always better than one with the trash rum a bartender is slinging from the rail.

So let’s jump in already. Here are some of our favorite highballs and mixed drinks that anyone can order and get into. A quick note: We left out all of the spirit plus juice mixes. So there’s no Salty Dog, Screwdriver, Sea Breeze, Greyhound, Cape Codder, etc. here. Basically a lot of these start to lean towards punches, cups, and coolers and are worthy of their own guide down the road.

Lastly the best measure for a highball or mixed drink is 6 ounces to 1.5 ounces or 4:1 ratio of carbonated drink to spirit. Almost all quality well crafted sodas and tonics will come in single serving glass bottles that are approximately six-ounces, making the measuring simple. It’s the shortest drink recipe you’ll ever have to memorize!

SCOTCH & SODA

This is the grandaddy of them all. The simple blending of a nice scotch with a mineral-y carbonated water is the classic highball. This also lends itself to a lot of variation. You can use any whisk(e)y really to make your concoction. Our recommendation is finding a blended whisky you love, a sparkling mineral water you love, and putting them together. Chances are you’ll love that too.

GIN & TONIC

A GnT is probably the most popular highball worldwide. This drink has been around awhile. Quinine was added to soda water to help fight malaria in the British Colonies in the east all the way back in the 1700s and gin was added to that to make it all go down more easily. The GnT’s dubious malaria fighting abilities aside, this drink has dozens of variations. You can add cucumber, lime, lemon, berries, herbs, spices, or whatever else really floats your boat as a garnish.

The Spanish version — which is gaining popularity worldwide — ditches the highball glass for a classic coupe (sometimes called a balloon glass) and adds in bay, peppercorns, citrus, and other fresh botanicals to match whatever gin is being used. No matter how you decide to serve and drink your GnT, it’ll be one of the most refreshing drinks you’ll find.

HORSE’S NECK

A Horse’s Neck is another British classic. This drink was so popular that in the officer’s halls of the Royal Navy they used to serve these by the jug full. This mixed drink is a base of brandy (now more commonly bourbon), a few dashes of Angostura bitters and topped with ginger ale. Add in the zest of a orange or lemon and you’re good to go.

It’s the perfect drink to transition to or from the hard-hitting strength of an old fashioned.

JACK & COKE

This is highball is Americana in a single glass. The corn-fueled Tennessee whiskey is a perfect match for the corn(syrup)-fueled American champagne, Coca-Cola. It’s a match made in a dirty South heaven and it’s damn near perfection.

Somehow this drink kinda tastes better when you’re drinking out of a red plastic cup (chemistry yo!), so don’t feel bad if you want to ditch a highball glass.

LONDON BUCK

This mixed drink is variation of the extremely popular mule. In its most basic form, a London Buck is gin, lime juice, and ginger beer garnished with lime, mint, or cucumber. A great way to amp this drink up a notch is to steep your gin overnight with grated fresh ginger to really kick its ass. Strain off the ginger and throw the gin in the freezer.

This is a spicy and refreshing drink that can cool down any summer day.

AMERICANO

Campari is the bitters of the gods — well, the Roman gods anyways. If you’re into Negronis, then the Americano is the mixed drink for you. One part Campari and one part sweet vermouth is topped with a nice and very soft mineral water (preferably from Italy) to create the Americano.

Add in a twist of orange and you’ll be transported to a sun-soaked piazza somewhere in Italy.

SKINNY BITCH

Don’t @ me in the comments, I didn’t name this drink. This highball is the simple mix of vodka and soda water with a lime as a garnish. It’s low cal, and largely tastes of whatever water you’re using with a dash of lime in it. If you use shitty vodka, it’ll taste of shitty vodka.

SEVEN & SEVEN

A working class classic, the Seven & Seven highball ditches the mineral water for the sweetness of 7-Up. Seagram’s Seven is a blended American whiskey that needs more blending to make it drinkable — enter the lemon lime soda. Glassware doesn’t really matter here. It’s also probably your best bet to order one at a real dive bar — the pour will be stiff and the shot of pop from the bar gun will be light.

CUBA LIBRE

Viva Cuba! Our anti-Cuban rhetoric over the last half-century has led a lot of Americans to call this a rum and coke. But that dismisses the creation of the drink and American and Cuban history. According to bar myth, the Cuba Libre was invented during the Spanish American War in Havana, when American GIs mixed their coke with local rum and limes and called it the Free Cuba! because they were down there freeing Cuba from the Spanish. We goddamned named the drink ourselves, so, yeah, let’s start calling it a Cuba Libre again. Also, learn about the Spanish American War.

It’s crucial to use a sugar cane based cola here. Just like with the Jack and Coke corn connection, rum is a sugar cane based spirit that pops when you use a sugar cane based cola.

MOSCOW MULE

This is another hugely popular drink. It’s a base of vodka mixed with lemon juice and topped with a nice and spicy ginger beer. Another pro tip is to do the same as the with the gin for a London Buck and steep it with fresh ginger overnight. Garnish with some lime or nice cooling cucumber and it’ll make your next Mule a bombastic, spicy delight.

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