Here’s the Lowdown on Highballs

And why they're a warm-weather staple.

Illustration via Shutterstock

What do gin and tonic, Scotch and soda, and rum and Coke have in common? They’re highballs, basically the baseline cocktail: a shot, a mixer and ice in a tall glass. The highball, not overly strong thanks to the mixer, fits with the current interest in traditional cocktails and a national trend toward drinking less.

 “In spring and summer, you want something refreshing,” says Cesar Reyes, of Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg. “Customers don’t want drinks neat, and this way they can have multiple drinks.”

Invented during Prohibition to obscure the flaws of homemade hooch, the highball became a staple in Japan in the 1950s, when the Japanese distillery Suntory popularized the whiskey-and-soda-highball. Recently, the company launched its Toki whisky blend Stateside and sent its proprietary Toki Highball dispensing machine along with it. Of 80 machines in the United States, two are in New Jersey, at Dullboy in Jersey City and Stirling Tavern in Morristown.

“The Highball Machine does something ordinary bar guns can’t: it cools the whisky and water to near freezing for less dilution from melting ice and greater retention of carbonation,” says brand ambassador Gardner Dunn.

For home mixologists, “ice is important,” says Debbie Anday, a consultant who designed the highball program at Ariane Kitchen & Bar in Verona. “If you serve a highball with a chilled soda, I prefer nice, large cubes, so not to overdilute your drink.”  

The Chef’s Garden restaurant at Crystal Springs is running five different gin and tonics garnished with combinations like peppercorn and strawberries or sage and blueberries. In Montclair, Pharmacie Bar + Kitchen bar manager Donny Nelson makes a highball-inspired Rabbit Rum Punch, which consists of rum, Cynar artichoke liqueur, almond milk, fresh-pressed carrot juice, a dash of agave and grated cardamom. A long way from a highball, but “it’s pretty fun.” 

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