Highballs are summer in a glass. Every single element—from the stack of ice cubes, carbonated beverage and citrus notes to the base spirit—comes together as an antidote to the heat. Served in a tall glass, this crisp, refreshing and low ABV (alcohol by volume) drink is perfect any time on a sweltering day.
It’s a classic cocktail, believed to be more than 100 years old. The proto-highball, some say, was brandy diluted with water, soda or ginger ale. The Japanese are said to have popularised shochu highball, with a Japanese grained spirit replacing the whisky, after World War II. Over time, the highball evolved to incorporate blended scotch, dark rum and white spirits like gin, vodka and tequila. The soda component gave way to tonic, and in the age of craft cocktails, bartenders prepare their own sodas, experiment with cordials and switch things up with a range of carbonated drinks from tonic, sparkling water or wine and even champagne.
In 1949, Esquire magazine regarded the highball as the “high priest of tall drinks”. At the turn of the millennium, the Japanese whisky brand Suntory began to collaborate with bartenders around the world in a bid to increase its presence. Its signature whisky, Toki, was used to concoct highballs. Cut to today, and highballs have reached Indian shores too. Walk into any good bar and it will offer its take on the classic highball elevated with home-made cordials, sodas and much more. Suntory’s website recommends using a chilled tall glass.
The Mumbai-based Perch Wine & Coffee Bar has a highball-style drink named Toki Toki. Its bar manager, Dhruv Sachdeva, draws inspiration from the Japanese to create highballs—his favourite cocktails. “These can be enjoyed through the day. In fact, I have served highballs even at 8 in the morning,” he says. Their drinks menu has a few interesting highball-style cocktails; one of them, Tongue & Cheek, has tequila instead of whisky, and sparkling water instead of soda. It embodies the austere beauty celebrated by the Japanese with ombre shades of pink reminiscent of cherry blossoms.
The Fairmont Jaipur hotel offers Classic Perfected, with a highball-style cocktail containing dark rum, St-Germain liqueur and Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut champagne for that carbonated element—and glamour.
Aasim Patial, head mixologist at the hotel, suggests experimenting with Indian whiskies to make a highball at home. You could try the recently launched Godawan by Diageo, Rampur, Paul John and blends from the Bengaluru-based Amrut.
A highball is one of the simplest cocktails to recreate at home. Sachdeva says the golden ratio is 1:1:3, which denotes one part spirit, one part mix of sugar and lemon juice and three parts of a carbonated mixer like soda or tonic. Patial recommends taking a tall glass, filling it with chunky ice cubes and pouring the spirit over it. “This step is important, for it infuses the ice with the spirit,” he says. Then add the lemon-sugar mix, top up with soda, give it good stir, add a citrus garnish —and it’s ready to be served.
One can take it up a few notches by swapping the soda with a sparkling rosé or prosecco. The main idea is to strike a balance; so if you use wine, the drink may need less sugar and lime. Just as you do with food, taste it while you are preparing it to achieve the perfect harmony of flavours.
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