The Odd Couple

It's time for the last two types of cocktail genres to be discussed and so this post then covers Highball and Old Fashioned cocktails.

I have given the title of this week's offering as the "Odd Couple" because on first inspection, the two options would seem to cover the least visited of cocktail types compared to the previously described Martinis, Daiquiris, Flips and Sidecars of this world. However, I hope that the next few paragraphs will create some interest in options that are both fun and bursting with flavour and different options.


Starting with the highballs…. Where does the term come from. Romantically, from the railways, when the train was getting up to high speed

the pressure indicator was a ball that would rise to the top of a glass column to indicate increasing pressure. Alternatively, it could relates to the coining of the phrase - “having a ball” (ie having a party / drink / knees up / rave depending on your generation with a drink served in a high glass). Choose your origin, I’ll go for the trains (I know it’s likely more boring than that but hey - so what!).

So what’s a highball….

It's a.....

  • Whisky & Soda

  • Gin & Tonic

  • Vodka and lemonade

… in some ways, the simplest drinks to serve beyond a dram of whisky.

But then the attention to detail is the key here.

Right glass.

Right mixer.

Right core

By all accounts, this is where the Highball Cocktail comes into its own in Japan - where the cocktail preparation assumes the importance that we would perhaps more readily appreciate by equating it to the Japanese tea Ceremony. Admirable.

So what about variations.....

  1. Americano has the spirit as a mix of Campari & sweet vermouth

  2. Aperol Spritz - has a mix of Aperol and champagne / sparkling wine and soda

  3. Harvey Wallbanger - vodka and a small float of Galliano and orange juice

  4. Tequila sunrise - tequila with orange juice and grenadine

Okay, so how to play around with essentially the easiest cocktail recipe in the book…

Rule one - use a high quality spirit base . (If not, it’ll shine through for the wrong reasons.) In other words a high quality spirit base (?combination) that allows for distinctive and unique flavours to shine through. Consider the fortified wines as per the Americano as above.

Now here’s the thing - a real highball should, in theory, be made up of spirit and sparkling water - not soda. Sparkling water is different to soda, which has carbonated gas that makes the water acidic due to the solution formed between gas (CO2) and water.

There’s a German town called Neiderseltser that has a mineral spring that gives forth bubbly water which became all the rage a hundred or so years ago (and more) and in doing so gave birth, it would seem to the term Seltzer Water.

To keep the bubbles in your seltzer water / soda / fizzy drink of any kind, keep it cold. The gas will come out of solution (ie the drink goes flat) quicker when the temperature of the drink rises. However, be aware too that any impurities on the glass will cause millions of "focus points" for the gas to become attracted to, and thereby another reason for it to come out of solution. This also applies to the irregularity of the surface of the ice cubes used in your drink.

Be aware that carbonated water, by being acid, affects the nature of a drink by making it less sweet tasting. Hence the need to consider adding sweetness.

Try these options as well as the classics noted above - all three are highballs….

Cuba Libre

2 measures white rum (Consider our Oriental Spiced Gin for a gin alternative here)

¼ ounce of lime juice

4 measures of cola

  • Pour rum into a highball, add ice, stir briefly - 3 secs - then add lime juice and cola.

  • Garnish with lime wedge.


4 measures of orange juice

2 measures of vodka

  • Combine both ingredients in a highball, add ice. Stir briefly - 3 secs - no garnish.

Tequila Sunrise

2 measures tequila (Consider our Diamond Vodka for a different sunrise)

4 - 6 measures orange juice

¼ measure lime juice

¼ measure grenadine

  • Combine the tequila, orange and lime juices.

  • Add ice and stir briefly - 3 secs.

  • Add grenadine DON’T STIR TOO MUCH IF AT ALL (I like to stir gently I have to say but the Grenadine will settle to the bottom of the glass - SUNRISE - get it!)

  • Garnish with an orange wheel and lime wedge.

Now we’re onto the OLD FASHIONED cocktail option….

This is a relative quickie description but do not be fooled into thinking this makes an Old-Fashioned something to be glossed over.

Far from it.

Each year, during the first two weeks of June, Louisville celebrates "Old Fashioned Fortnight" which encompasses bourbon events, cocktail specials and National Bourbon Day which is always celebrated on June 14.

Louisville at night

Essentially an Old Fashioned is a spirit sweetened with sugar and seasoned with some bitters. It’s simple but sophisticated. Sure it tends to be whiskey / bourbon based, but there can be variations.

The original recipe suggests a sugar cube (Demerara would be ideal IMHO) - but in a busy bar, the potential to end up with a rapidly made cocktail that leaves a sugar sludge in the bottom of the glass lends itself to the preference of a sugar syrup.

The bitters are a great way of balancing the sugar - but to me - the last step is the key here….the garnish.

It seems the best garnish for an OF is the dual garnish of orange and lemon.

Here’s my recipe for an OF - one that we now like to serve at The Aviator Gin Bar:

Old Fashioned Aviator Style

2 x measures of Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey Whiskey

½ x measure of Demerara sugar syrup (50:50 sugar : water)

1 x dash Angostura bitters

1 x dash grapefruit bitters

  • Combine both ingredients into an Old Fashioned glass, add ice. Stir briefly - 3 secs.

  • Garnish

  1. Step one: Squeeze the orange twist over the liquid prepared.

  2. Step two: Gently rub the orange around the rim of the glass

  3. Step three: Gently squeeze the lemon over the liquid

  4. Step four: Insert both orange and lemon twists vertically into the drink

There are a few different spirit bases that can be used - Amontillado sherry / cognac / vermouth. In order to explore them fully, I would thoroughly recommend (again) the truly excellent book called Cocktail Codex (Day / Fouchald / Kaplan) from which so much of my blog has been informed.

I was keen to find an OF variation that would take us away from whiskey / bourbon. Ready to be surprised……what about…..

Champagne Cocktail

1 sugar cube

Angostura bitters

Dry Champagne (but if you’re like me and can’t afford the champagne - any dry sparkling wine)

Garnish - 1 lemon twist

  • Place demerara sugar cube on an absorbent surface

  • Saturate the cube completely with the Angostura Biters

  • Place the cube into a chilled champagne flute

  • Top.carefully with the sparkling wine (DO NOT STIR)

  • Express lemon twist into the drink and then place it within the drink

Today we have looked at both Highball and Old Fashioned cocktails which means that in the past few blogs we have looked at the whole gamut of co