Highball 101 with Katie Nagar

14 October, 2019 by
Madeline Woolway

Hospitality magazine talks to Diageo national whisky ambassador Katie Nagar about the refreshing beverage otherwise known as the highball.

What is a highball, technically speaking?


The broad definition of a highball is any mixed drink consisting of a spirit and a long, refreshing mixer and garnish. A wide array of drinks can fall under the highball category.

What’s the ideal spirit to mixer radio? 


The standard reliable ratio is 1:3, so essentially one measure of spirit (30 ml) to three parts mixer (90–100 ml). The foundation of all great drinks is balance, so you may need to adjust slightly depending on the specific spirit and mixer, but typically 1:3 is a safe bet.

What order should the cocktail be built in and why?


Highballs are very easy to make. Ideally, a highball should be built in a tall glass. The spirit should go in the glass first before measuring out the mixer. Fill the glass to the top with ice and add the garnish.

Is there an optimal amount of ice to use? 

As much ice as the glass can fit. A glass full of ice helps slow dilution, meaning the highball won’t get too watery too quickly.  Additionally, if you are using a carbonated mixer, ice helps to trap the carbonation, ensuring your drink will stay bubbly for as long as possible.

Traditionally, what other ingredients have been used in highballs? 

The origins of the drink date back to the early 19th century in England. The original serve was cognac and soda water until Scotch whisky became the spirit of choice by the late 1800s.

The simple model of spirit, mixer and garnish continues to be the most classic style of highball, but of course it is possible to incorporate other elements such as bitters, cordials, liqueurs and the like. Adding additional ingredients can be fun to experiment with and help heighten the drink’s complexity, but balance in flavour is always key.

How has their popularity waxed and waned over time?

The highball has always been an enduring favourite in some form or another. Keep in mind, the gin and tonic, Moscow Mule and Dark and Stormy are all members of the highball family.

I believe highballs using Scotch whisky lost some popularity a while ago because most people thought the only options were Scotch and soda or Scotch and ginger ale. I also people [believe] all Scotch tastes the same, not realising the category features a huge range of flavours.

Why do they deserve a comeback?

Scotch highballs are experiencing a huge resurgence at present, and for good reason. It’s a simple and tasty drink that acts as an incredible vessel to showcase the quality of whisky.

Research also shows that lower-ABV drinks are becoming increasingly popular across the world. The highball is perfectly positioned within this global trend as it usually contains only one measure of spirit, meaning you can enjoy a lighter style drink that still offers amazing flavour. Furthermore, the simplicity of the serve means highballs can be made easily and quickly, either in the comfort of your own home or served up speedily by an expert behind the bar.





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