Learning how to make a highball is pretty easy. At its core, a classic highball is blended scotch and fizzy mineral water in a highball glass over ice. That’s it, lesson over.
I kid, I kid.
Sure, you can just throw some blended scotch, ice, and water in a glass and go about your business. But to truly “get” this mixed drink, you need to dial it in a little more than that. The most important aspect — I’d argue even more important than the scotch you’re using — is to chill your glass, water, and whisky first. I’ve been in bars where they also keep the barspoons and jiggers in a freezer drawer, too.
The idea behind all this chilling is that when everything is already ice-cold, a special bit of alchemy takes place. Suddenly, you get a wholly unique flavor and textural experience from these three simple ingredients. The cold whisky has its own viscous texture that’s sort of amped up by the bubbles in the cold water, which bring the flavors to the surface of the drink.
If you try a highball like this, you will taste a difference. But since we’re only talking about mixing blended whisky with some water and ice (even at its most complicated, it’s easy), I’m going to take this one step further. I’m making three different highballs today, to decide if the extra cash for the higher-end bottles is really worth it with a mixed drink like this.
I’m starting with Johnnie Walker Black (the classic choice for a highball). Then I’m trying the same application with Johnnie Green (our favorite expression of the whole Johnnie Walker line). Finally, I’m going a little crazy and mixing a highball with Johnnie Walker Blue (I was lucky enough to snag their beautiful new Year of the Ox Limited Edition over the Lunar New Year).
Yes, I’m mixing a $200+ bottle of scotch into a mixed drink … for science! To test if the “good stuff” keeps its impact when you treat it like the “cheap stuff.” Let’s get mixing!
Part1: The Highball
- 1.5-oz. blended scotch whisky
- 4-oz. fizzy mineral water/club soda
When it comes to what scotch to use for this drink, go with blended. Whether that’s a smoky blend or a sweet blend is up to you. I like a whisper of smoke in my highballs, but it has to be subdued. I also like the sweet malts and a bit of fruit. For me, that’s Johnnie Walker. If you prefer Chivas or Dewar’s or old-school Black & White, go for it!
Likewise, if you’re not into scotch, try your favorite bourbon or rye or Candian or Irish whisk(e)y. Just make sure to pre-chill your bottle before you start mixing.
What You’ll Need:
- Collins glass or highball glass (a tall 10-oz. glass)
- Put everything in the freezer (the glass, spoon, jigger, and whisky) and put the water in the fridge overnight.
- Add the ice to a pre-chilled glass (I like to have the barspoon already in the glass to make stirring easier).
- Add the chilled whisky and top with chilled water.
- Lightly stir.
Part 2: Taste Test
Taste Test 1: Johnnie Walker Black Label
Okay, this was pretty goddamn solid. On the first sip, there was that signature note of smoke from Johnnie Black with a slightly ashen body. There wasn’t too much sweet but the malts were definitely present. The water really helped amp up the ashy-smoke while mellowing the malts, all while adding a nice fizziness.
It’s refreshing, velvety smooth, really damn cold, and hits the spot.
I like this. I’ve drunk a million of these in bars (clubs) with bad bottle selections. It’s easy to drink and gives you that slight smoky reminder that you are, indeed, drinking scotch.
Taste Test 2: Johnnie Walker Green Label
Wow. I’m shocked how much different this tastes. There’s a real sense of dry cedar next to light notes of sweet red berries. There’s none of the spice or grassiness that’s usually in a dram of Green Label, but that’s okay. There is the faintest wisp of smoke on the end, but only barely.
The blend of that wood and berry note really works with the fizzy water, kind of like a really fancy bespoke all-natural soda.
This is too different to really say it’s better than the Johnnie Black highball. Though it’s certainly not worse. I think if you want that full twinge of smoke, Black Label might be more your jam. Plus, the Black Label is pretty much half the price.
Taste Test 3: Johnnie Blue
After the drastic shift between the Black and Green, I really didn’t know what to expect with this highball. This is ludicrous. It’s like the best cream soda that was ever made. One that you’ve only heard rumors of. There was a slight nuttiness under that well-rounded vanilla body.
I got zero smokiness. It was all velvet vanilla sodas and creamy vanilla cake with walnuts.
This is extraordinary and so crushable. If they sold this in a can, it’d never be in stock. But given that each 1.5-oz. of whisky that goes into this highball costs around $15 (that’s at least a $75 bar pour, folks), it’s not exactly practical.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised one of the most beloved blended malt whiskies is still amazing in a highball. But that’s kind of the point — a great whisky shines no matter how you like to drink it. I typically like Johnnie Blue neat or with a little water, but, wow, this highball was close to magical.
In the end, I think I’ll stick with making my highballs with Johnnie Green. At the very least, it’s way more affordable. Moreover, I really like that cedar and berry note with the fizzy water. It’s very Pacific Northwest — reminding me of wild huckleberries growing around cedar groves.
Still, if you ever have Johnnie Blue just laying around…