Cocktails are often characterized by the distinctive categories into which they fall. You have your sours, slings, daisies, juleps, smashes, fizzes, cobblers, highballs, punches, Collins, and so on—each with their own rules of engagement. A sour, for example, must contain spirit, citrus and sweetener, while a cobbler is only a cobbler so long as it contains fruit and is served over crushed ice. Many of these formats have been turned upside-down, reimagined and stretched beyond their limits over the course of the modern cocktail revival. But there are certain rules that appear unbreakable. For example, when we think of classic, stirred, three-ingredient cocktails—the Martini, Manhattan, Negroni—we think of them as bracing and boozy and served up or, occasionally, on the rocks. We do not think of them as tall and bubbly.
But in a belated glimpse of the obvious, our beloved stirred classics can be stretched tall for a taste of the best of both worlds, with only a few minor tweaks. Consider Orlando Franklin McCray’s White Negroni Highball, for example. As the name implies, McCray’s hybrid cocktail takes the traditional build of the fairer Negroni, opting for Salers instead of Suze and blanc vermouth in place of Lillet, and tops the whole thing with tonic water and a lemon wedge. At Theory Bar in Athens, Greece, bartender Alexis Simonidis makes a low-ABV rendition of the Manhattan by dialing down the rye and vermouth and topping the mixture with tonic. Fanny Chu, meanwhile, transforms the dirty Martini into a slightly savory highball with the addition of manzanilla sherry, tonic water and, of course, olive brine.
But tonic water is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lengthening classic stirred drinks. Anything from club soda to ginger beer is fair game. Or consider splitting the topper, as Paul McGee does in his Ti’ Punch Highball, in which coconut water commingles with tonic. Once you come around to the idea, even a drink as stalwart as the Sazerac is fair game.
Indeed, in a world as upside-down as ours, why not turn the dictums of drinking on their head, and order your Martini tall.