There’s a bunch of stuff to get out of the way with the drink called the “Highball”.
First off, like with the Martini, there is a modern tendency to use the name “Highball” for a whole class of drinks. In the case of the Highball, people use it as a category name for any drink with spirits and a carbonated mixer served over ice. Gin and Tonics are Highballs, Dark and Stormies are Highballs, Bulldogs are Highballs, Sleepyheads are Highballs, Seven and Sevens are Highballs.
Personally, I tend not to be so inclusive.
Highballs are shortish drinks served over a rock or two of ice and composed of spirits and soda water. Maybe Ginger Ale, but only if you’re a girl.
There’s a letter to the New York Times in the archive attributed to one “Patrick J. Duffy” from October 25, 1927.
To summarize the article, an English actor came in to Mr. Patrick J. Duffy’s bar in the early 1890s and asked for a “Scotch and Soda” and was surprised to discover that Mr. Duffy did not stock Scotch, except in casks and mostly for winter warmers. The actor provided a reference, or source, for Scotch, presumably in bottles, and soon Mr. Duffy was selling nearly nothing but Scotch and Sodas or “Scotch Highballs” as the actor called the new drink.
It doesn’t sound like Duffy invented the drink, as the English actor asked for it, or that he named it, as he also gives the credit to the actor for that.
Here’s the first paragraph of Mr. Duffy’s Letter:
An editorial in THE TIMES says that the Adams House, Boston, claims to have served the first Scotch highball in this country. This claim is unfounded. The honor not only of making the first Scotch highball but of first introducing “case” Scotch whisky into this country belongs to E. J. Ratcliffe, the actor, who came here in the early 90’s from London with Mary Anderson’s company of players and who later was a leading actor in the old Lyceum Stock Company when that theatre was between Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Streets on Fourth Avenue.
Use medium size glass.
1 Lump of Ice.
1 Glass of any Spirit, Liqueur or Wine desired. (2 oz Yamazaki 12*)
Fill glass with syphon soda water or split soda. Ginger Ale can be used if preferred. Add twist of lemon peel if desired.
So, as we talked about on the Collins Post, sometimes there is a problem with glassware.
As a cocktail geek, one of the notable things I like to check out in pictures of pre-prohibition bars is the large variety of glassware.
However, after prohibition, or at least by the 1970s, we were down to pretty much these three glasses for Drinks: Collins, Cocktail, and Bucket.
The modern tendency is to use the same tall 12-14 ounce Collins Glass for the Collins family and Highballs. However, Mr. Duffy, the person who allegedly introduced the Highball to American audiences, is very clear: The Highball is served in a 8 ounce glass.
So, two ounces of spirit, a large-ish hand cut cube, and maybe another two ounces of sparkling water in a rather short glass compose a Highball. I am lucky to have recently purchased this glass, as it is exactly 8 ounces.
Sadly, this glass size, which I really happen to like, has pretty much been extinct behind every bar in American since Prohibition.
Though, if you look, you will find lots of these glasses on eBay: shortish, straight sided glasses, often with the name of the bar or logo on the side. Usually, the eBay seller mistakenly calls them “water glasses,” but before prohibition, these were highball glasses.
As the first Highball was, in fact, a Scotch Highball, I figured I should at least make a gesture in that direction. However, as usual, I am being difficult. I decided to use Japanese Whisky, Suntory Yamazaki 12.
Quoting from the Suntory Yamazaki Website:
Both Suntory YAMAZAKI 12- and 18- year old single malts are aged in casks of three different kinds of oaks: American, Spanish and Japanese. This gives Suntory Whisky its unique quality. Each drink has a distinct taste.
YAMAZAKI Single Malt 12-Year Old Whisky
This is a medium-bodied whisky with the aromas of dried fruits and honey. It has a delicate, mellow taste with a lingering, woody, dry finish.
Interestingly, the Highball, or “Whisky-Soda”, is one of the most popular drinks in Japan, or at least one of the most common ways to drink Whisky. People who have been there tell me that Yamaki 12 is a more expensive whisky than anyone in Japan would typically drink in a Highball, they’d probably drink a cheaper blended Whisky, but it does make a fantastic and rediculously easy drinking Highball.
*I’m pretty sure I was sent this bottle of Yamazaki 12 some time ago by a publicity firm promoting the brand. Life doesn’t suck.
This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the drinks in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, the, uh, Sauterne Cup.