The whisky highball is the ultimate in summer refreshment – long, ice cold, bubbly and hydrating, it’s a perfect low-calorie and low-alcohol alternative to beer. Traditionally a combination of whisky and soda water (poured over plenty of ice), the highball has become a staple of Japanese drinking culture, and is rising in popularity in the US and UK.
While purists might claim a highball should be made with only the finest sparkling water, there is a soda revolution under way. Rapidly increasing demand for low-calorie, low-alcohol drinks has prompted the emergence of new premium mixers that are identifiable by their low sugar content and intriguing grown-up flavours – from roasted pineapple to white grape and apricot. These sodas and tonics are designed to elevate a spirit’s inherent flavours and are lean enough to give a classic highball an injection of flavour – and fun.
Chris Tanner of London whisky specialist Milroy’s of Soho, which now serves a range of highballs on draught, says: ‘Over the past few years the highball has crossed from being a whisky and soda water to be informally defined as a spirit served long and topped with any kind of soda. This has afforded us the chance to mix with whiskies that ordinarily we wouldn’t get a chance to.’ The bar is now making its own flavoured sodas, with Tanner favouring a combination of Aberfeldy 12yo with Milroy’s watermelon and cardamom soda.
There’s no real secret to creating the perfect highball – all you need is a long glass filled with ice, whisky and cold soda (the ratio of whisky to soda is a personal preference, although 1:3 tends to be ideal). When pairing whisky with a flavoured soda, however, Matt Hastings, brand ambassador for Nc’nean, has a piece of advice: ‘Think of your soda as seasoning, not the main ingredient. You want just enough to lengthen the drink, and to add those glorious bubbles, without overwhelming the spirit.’
To help you move beyond mixing your whisky with soda water, cola or ginger ale, try these alternative flavoured sodas and tonics in a tall, refreshing summer highball.
6 whisky highball mixers to try
London Essence Roasted Pineapple
The London Essence Company layers flavours, botanical extracts and bespoke distillates crafted in-house to create a range of complex yet natural and low-calorie sodas designed to enhance a variety of spirits. Its Roasted Pineapple soda is a tropical wonder, with gooey, caramelised pineapple providing a lush fruitiness without being overwhelmingly sweet. Use it to draw out a whisky’s tropical character, or even pair with a peated malt for an especially smoky treat – it’ll be like that roasted pineapple’s come straight off the barbecue.
Try it with: Bushmills 16yo or Benriach The Smoky Ten
Double Dutch Cranberry & Ginger
Every soda in the Double Dutch range is made with natural ingredients and low sugar, with a drive for ‘bold, new, unexpected’ flavours. Its light and zingy Cranberry & Ginger Tonic is designed especially for dark rums and Cognac, but also elevates whiskies with a bramble berry, orchard-fruit persona and a delicately warming yet dry punch of ginger spice.
Try it with: Nc’nean Organic Single Malt Scotch or The Glenlivet 15yo
Fever-Tree White Grape & Apricot
Fever-Tree is well known for its tonic water, but its range of low-sugar sodas make a solid accompaniment to dark spirits, whisky in particular. This blend of white grapes usually reserved for Prosecco, and apricots from the north of Italy results in a mouthwateringly aromatic soda with a delicate finish. Perfect with a Madeira- or Sauternes-finished malt.
Try it with: Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or or Glen Moray 2006 Madeira Cask Project
Sekforde Sicilian Orange, Rosemary & Gentian
Sekforde’s range of natural botanical premium mixers are each designed to unlock a different style of spirit, and this Sicilian Orange, Rosemary and Gentian soda has been crafted with whisky in mind. A herbaceous, warming blend of rosemary and gentian provide top notes to a sweet, bitter orange backdrop. It pairs nicely with a light style of bourbon or single malt with a decent oak influence.
Try it with: Woodford Reserve or Deanston Virgin Oak
London Essence White Peach & Jasmine
If you’re looking for a soda to transport you to a flowering orchard on a summer’s day, this is it. Delicately fragrant jasmine intertwines with ripe, juicy white peach for a refreshing soda that’s best paired with a light, floral or honeyed single malt or buttery grain whisky.
Try it with: Aultmore 12yo or Nikka Coffey Grain
Fever-Tree Blood Orange
A herbal, aperitivo style of soda from Fever-Tree that combines juicy sweetness from Sicilian blood oranges with bitterness from aromatic wormwood and balsam. Although it’s designed to mix with vodka and Italian liqueurs, try it with bourbon or rye whiskey with an orange wedge – like a long, refreshing version of a Boulevardier.
Try it with: Bulleit Bourbon or Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond Straight Rye