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JAZ

Highballs

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Although my first "regular" cocktail, back in college, was the gin and tonic, and I used to drink more than my share of sweetened Gin Rickeys, I'm not a particular fan of highballs.

But I am a ginger ale/beer fan, and recently I found a new (to me) Jamaican ginger brew at my neighborhood grocery store. So I bought a few bottles, and have been enjoying such drinks as the Presbyterian (rye, ginger ale and soda) and a variation on Dale DeGroff's Anejo highball (dark rum, lime, triple sec, ginger ale).

But it made me realize that I don't really know much about highballs. What's the definition? I think of the classic highball as Scotch and soda, and I've always thought that basically they're spirit + carbonated mixer, or with a stretch, a little citrus or sweetener. Gary Regan includes all the spirit + juice drinks like the Screwdriver as well, but I've never thought of them as highballs.

So what counts as a highball? Is there a strict definition? And whether or not there is, what other great highballs am I missing?

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I have always considered "highballs" (love the classic "atomic fifties" name) to be a primary spirit with a carbonated "wash"served in a tall glass. Whiskey & gingerale is the classic highball I grew up with here in Cleveland. I'm not sure if there are regional differences or not. There is a "lowball" as well. I think it is the same thing but in a short glass, or "tumbler". No too often you get a request for one. Usually from a true "old-timer". Gotta love a highball!

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I did a little etymological poking around. It seems that "highball" comes from "ball" meaning "a drink of spirits ("ball of fire" = "drink of brandy" circa 1820) and "high" referring to the height of the glass.

So the first criteria of a highball would seem to be that it's served in a highball glass. The word "highball" referring to the drink dates back to the late 18C. Most classically it consists of nothing more than a slug of spirits, ice and fizz water in a tall glass, and its invention was claimed by none other than Patrick Gavin Duffy. Dave points out, however, that the English were drinking brandy and soda some 100 years earlier. He also points to the Splificator as a drink of contemporaneous naming and close similarlty to the Highball. Nevertheless, Highball seems to be the name that stuck and it seems to now describe a drink comprised of a slug of spirits, ice and a fizzy liquid of any kind (seltzer, ginger ale, cola, etc.) served in a tall glass. I'm not sure whether I'd include juice-lengthened tall drinks as Highballs or not -- probably not.

I usually think of the great era of Highball proliferation as the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s. After prohibition and the War, there wasn't much in the way of aged spirits to go around. "Smooth" blends without much character were made more "easy-drinking" in this format.


--

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I typically lump all drinks that unclude booze lengthened with nonalcholic mixer, be it vodka and cranberry, crown and coke, gin and tonic, or scotch and soda, together as highballs, lest I be forced to produce a new term for ones that include juice.

ETA: One to try is a Cuba Libre; I like to get a relatively large pint glass, put in 2 oz of good dry white rum (not Bacardi), juice of a whole lime and maybe half the shell, and half of a 12 oz bottle of Mexican Coke, made with cane sugar, all over large ice cubes. One 12 oz bottle of coke is enough to make 2 of them this way. The resulting drink is no sweeter than a typical gin and tonic or tom collins, and the chemistry there is pure magic. It really displays the complexity of good ol' Coke.


Edited by thirtyoneknots (log)

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Rye and soda all summer long.

Fine in any other season as well.

Last year at Tales in NOLA drank alot of Lairds Bonded with soda and Peychaud bitters was tasty.

Could argue over supposed highballs until we were passed out or blue in the face. If I was to give a generic definition I would say as has been said it comes in a highball glass, my other parameter is that it is not a shaken drink, that rings more of cocktail to me. Though a highball can be considered a cocktail. This could turn into a sticky mess.

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Could argue over supposed highballs until we were passed out or blue in the face. If I was to give a generic definition I would say as has been said it comes in a highball glass, my other parameter is that it is not a shaken drink, that rings more of cocktail to me. Though a highball can be considered a cocktail. This could turn into a sticky mess.

When you say "not a shaken drink," I assume you mean not exclusively shaken? What about something like an El Diablo where you would shake the tequila, lime juice and creme de cassis and strain them into a highball glass, and then top up with ginger ale?


Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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If I was to give a generic definition I would say as has been said it comes in a highball glass

Until this thread appeared I had no idea that "highball" might have any other definition! :shock: Shows you what I know about cocktails... must be time to re-read Regan and DeGroff.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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I've always heard highball used to refer to spirit-and-a-mixer long drinks, excluding hot drinks and frozen drinks.

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I did a little etymological poking around.  It seems that "highball" comes from "ball" meaning "a drink of spirits ("ball of fire" = "drink of brandy" circa 1820) and "high" referring to the height of the glass.

Gary Regan's Joy of Mixology cites a railroad term as the source of the name:

Highball is a railroad term formerly used to indicate to the conductor on a steam train that there was enough water in the tank, and thus the train could go full steam ahead. The water level was indicated by a ball connected to a float inside the tank, so when the ball was high, the tank was full.

My Webster's Ninth lists both meanings but doesn't link the two.

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Gary Regan's Joy of Mixology cites a railroad term as the source of the name:
Highball is a railroad term formerly used to indicate to the conductor on a steam train that there was enough water in the tank, and thus the train could go full steam ahead. The water level was indicated by a ball connected to a float inside the tank, so when the ball was high, the tank was full.

In The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide Herbst & Herbst mention the railroad story, but seem to express some skepticism as to how accurate it is. Not that they offer a better explanation...


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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The OED gives three meanings for "highball." They are:

1. A game, a species of poker, played with balls and a bottle-shaped receptacle (1882, Editor's Run in New Mexico).

2. (In full highball signal.) A signal to proceed given to a locomotive driver, formerly by hoisting a ball aloft (1897, Chicago Record).

3. A drink of whiskey and soda or other mineral water served with ice in a tall glass. Also attrib. U.S. (1898, N.Y. Jrnl.).

Since the appearance of the latter two meanings seems roughly contemporaneous, I have my doubts as to whether the third is derived from the second somehow.


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To me highballs are spirits, ice, and fizzy mixer built in a highball glass. With the fizzy mixer being preferably club soda, selzer, or ginger ale. Lemon-Lime soda is probably also OK.

Anything else is another drink.

Am I being too picky by not thinking Rum & Cokes, Cuba Libres, Gin and Tonics, or Bull-Dogs are Highballs?


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Yea. I think Rum and Cokes, Cuba Libres andGin and Tonics are absolutely Highballs. What's the fundamental difference between a Rye and Ginger or a 7&7 and a Rum and Coke?


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[...]

Most classically it consists of nothing more than a slug of spirits, ice and fizz water in a tall glass, and its invention was claimed by none other than Patrick Gavin Duffy.  Dave points out, however, that the English were drinking brandy and soda some 100 years earlier.

[...]

Duffy doesn't claim to have invented the cocktail, just that he brought it to America. From the "Foreward" to his "The Official Mixer's Manual".

It is one of my fondest hopes that the highball will again take its place as the leading American Drink.  I admit to being prejudiced about this--it was I who first brought the highball to America, in 1895.  Although the distinction is claimed by the Parker House in Boston, I was finally given due credit for this innovation in the New York Times of not many years ago.

He suggests making them with Applejack, Bitters, Bourbon, Cognac, Cordials, Dubonnet, Gin, Grape Juice, Irish, Mint, Rye, Rum, and Scotch.

All of the above highballs are made and served as follows:

To 1 Cube of ice, add 1 Drink of Liquor desired, fill up with Carbonated Water or Ginger Ale.  Serve with a small bar spoon in glass and a piece of Lemon Peel if desired.  Use Glass Number 12.

Glass number 12 is an "Eight oz. Highball" and, if the pictures are to scale, is significantly smaller than the "Tom Collins" glass.

He also includes the slightly more elaborate Picon Highball, (Amer Picon and Grenadine or Curacao,) and the Cederlund's Swedish Punch Highball, (Cederlund's Swedish Punch and Bitters).


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Duffy doesn't claim to have invented the cocktail, just that he brought it to America.  From the "Foreward" to his "The Official Mixer's Manual".
It is one of my fondest hopes that the highball will again take its place as the leading American Drink.  I admit to being prejudiced about this--it was I who first brought the highball to America, in 1895.  Although the distinction is claimed by the Parker House in Boston, I was finally given due credit for this innovation in the New York Times of not many years ago.

This sounds an awful lot to me like he's saying he invented/coined it (unless there's more context suggesting otherwise).


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There's a letter to the New York Times in the archive attributed to one "Patrick J. Duffy" from October 25, 1927.

THE FIRST SCOTCH HIGHBALL; Claim of the Adams House, Boston, Disputed by a New Yorker.

An English actor came in to Mr. Duffy's bar 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.

Maybe adding the lump of ice was Duffy's "new" touch?

Here's the first paragraph:

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.

edit - added quote.


Edited by eje (log)

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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There's a letter to the New York Times in the archive attributed to one "Patrick J. Duffy" from October 25, 1927.

THE FIRST SCOTCH HIGHBALL; Claim of the Adams House, Boston, Disputed by a New Yorker.

An English actor came in to Mr. Duffy's bar 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.

Maybe adding the lump of ice was Duffy's "new" touch?

Here's the first paragraph:

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.

edit - added quote.

I came across this a couple of years ago and did a little digging at the time. A couple of things really stood out in Duffy's account. One: I couldn't find any reference to the Highball that predates Duffy's story, which is set IIRC in 1893-1894. The Highball achieved widespread popularity in 1899 and 1900, so that dovetails pretty well with Duffy's story, allowing a few years for underground dissemination. I just did a quick whip through the sources available here at home, and didn't find anything that changes this.

Then there's the name. It's ironic that Duffy credits a Brit with coming up with it, since the Highball was long used as an example of America's outlandish take on nomenclature--in Britain, of course, the same drink being known as a "whisky and soda."

But, as Sam noted upthread, one of the meanings of "ball" is "a drink." This was particularly an Irish usage, a "ball of malt" being a standard drink order in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Dublin. I don't know whether Edward J. Ratcliffe (?1863-1948), the Brit in question, had worked in Ireland, but Dublin and Belfast were definitely part of the British theatrical circuit and Ratcliffe had definitely toured Britain, so there may be some connection there.

Ratcliffe, by the way, was a piece of work, He was a bigamist and a brute who came over here, got in trouble with the law for his ways and ended up as a Hollywood character actor. Fun.


aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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I used to hear the term "highball" a lot while growing up. It seemed that when my parents entertained, highballs were the thing. I don't know if they were using the word as a synonym for cocktails, but I don't recall ever seeing real cocktails (or anything with more than 2 ingredients for that matter) being mixed up. There was never a lot of liquor in the house, either, other than Seagram's 7, but we always had a lot of mixers like ginger ale, Half & Half, something called 4% (which I believe was a local version of Half & Half), and club soda. I was always being told not to drink those because they were needed for highballs. So apparently, they were making a lot of whiskey & whatevers.

As soon as I saw the thread title, I immediately thought of DeGroff's Añejo HighBall which JAZ mention right away in the OP. In fact, for me it is now THE highball. It's what a highball should be (gotta use ginger beer though!). Fantastic drink. It will change the mind of anyone who might think highballs can only be boring.


Edited by brinza (log)

Mike

"The mixing of whiskey, bitters, and sugar represents a turning point, as decisive for American drinking habits as the discovery of three-point perspective was for Renaissance painting." -- William Grimes

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For those who allow taxonomic flexibility, I submit these two ginger syrup highballs: the Gingered Gentleman (bourbon, lime, ginger syrup, ginger beer) and this variation of the Salty Dog/Paloma (tequila, lime, ginger syrup, the grapefruit soda called Half-n-Half, and salt). The latter also is tasty with a splash of pineapple juice.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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My favorites have always been of the "X and Tonic" variety, with many different things playing the "X" part. Gin, obviously, but also rum (esp. Mount Gay) and tequila. Metaxa also makes an excellent tonic-based highball, garnished with a wedge of lemon.


Cheers,

Mike

"The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind."

- Bogart

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what's the difference between a fizz and a highball? On a recent episode of The Cocktail Spirit, Robert Hess presents a gin fizz. Which really seems to be nothing but a Tom Collins, but he said the difference is that the Gin Fizz just has more soda water.


Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"
jmeeker@eGullet.org

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what's the difference between a fizz and a highball?  On a recent episode of The Cocktail Spirit, Robert Hess presents a gin fizz. Which really seems to be nothing but a Tom Collins, but he said the difference is that the Gin Fizz just has more soda water.

I think Collins are generally shaken and served over ice, while Fizzes generally are shaken and served without ice. Collins are also pretty strictly defined as: Spirits, lemon, sugar, ice, soda. Fizzes can include a much larger canvas of ingredients. Eggs, cream, etc. The glasses they are served in should be different.

I believe the group has some disagreement about whether a Highball is a specific drink or a class of drinks.

To me, a Highball is built in a glass and includes: spirits, ice, soda or ginger ale. That's it.

Others maintain Highballs are an entire class of drinks that includes any drink with any sort of carbonated beverage.


Edited by eje (log)

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Could argue over supposed highballs until we were passed out or blue in the face. If I was to give a generic definition I would say as has been said it comes in a highball glass, my other parameter is that it is not a shaken drink, that rings more of cocktail to me. Though a highball can be considered a cocktail. This could turn into a sticky mess.

When you say "not a shaken drink," I assume you mean not exclusively shaken? What about something like an El Diablo where you would shake the tequila, lime juice and creme de cassis and strain them into a highball glass, and then top up with ginger ale?

The Diablo is on my current spring cocktail menu and I'm building it in the glass, tossing a couple of times and filling with ginger ale. Shaking and straining onto fresh ice seems like more work than is required.

I always thought a highball was any spirit + mixer(s) over ice in a tall/Collins glass.


Edited by KatieLoeb (log)

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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what's the difference between a fizz and a highball?  On a recent episode of The Cocktail Spirit, Robert Hess presents a gin fizz. Which really seems to be nothing but a Tom Collins, but he said the difference is that the Gin Fizz just has more soda water.

I think Collins are generally shaken and served over ice, while Fizzes generally are shaken and served without ice. Collins are also pretty strictly defined as: Spirits, lemon, sugar, ice, soda. Fizzes can include a much larger canvas of ingredients. Eggs, cream, etc. The glasses they are served in should be different.

I believe the group has some disagreement about whether a Highball is a specific drink or a class of drinks.

To me, a Highball is built in a glass and includes: spirits, ice, soda or ginger ale. That's it.

Others maintain Highballs are an entire class of drinks that includes any drink with any sort of carbonated beverage.

I agree wholeheartedly that the name Highball originally described the drink listed here, but to say that a Gin & Tonic is not a highball is like saying that a Manhattan is not a cocktail, as it contains no sugar like the original definition. For me, calling something a highball is useful for distinguishing mixed drinks that are not cocktails (in the more modern usage). Is a Cosmopolitan a cocktail? I think most would agree that it is. Is a rum & coke? I would say that it is not, on the basis of lacking concentration of spirits. It is then, in my mind, a highball.


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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