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What Makes a Modern Highball?

February 16, 2022

Story: Punch Staff

photo: Lizzie Munro

Partner Content

What Makes a Modern Highball?

February 16, 2022

Story: Punch Staff

photo: Lizzie Munro

Meet the new guard of highballs inspired by fanciful tropical drinks, savory culinary applications and regional styles like Texas Ranch Water.

No longer just staid combinations of spirits hastily topped with soda water, perhaps boosted by a squeeze of lime, modern highballs have more personality than ever before. Today, bartenders are taking inspiration from a spectrum of sources, including fanciful tropical drinks, savory culinary applications and regional styles like Texas Ranch Water.

To demonstrate this range, we invited Punch’s 2021 Bartender in Residence class to play with the full range of Fever-Tree mixers—from tonic to ginger ale, cola to sparkling citrus sodas—to give their own unique spin on the highball blueprint. In addition to their original drink creations, they’ve provided some tips and tricks for perfecting the art of mixing an elevated highball at home.

“Highballs are inherently simple,” says Emilio Salehi, of San Francisco’s Equal Parts. “Just a couple of solid ingredients and a quality mixer is all you really need.”

Monaco Highball Fever-Tree

Monaco Highball

French and Italian ingredients come together in this refreshing homage to the Mediterranean.

New Crush Fever-Tree

New Crush

A vegetal riff on by Spain’s Vermut & Tonic.

Colaroso Fever-Tree


A low-proof highball inspired by the pebble ice used in soft drinks at the drive-in chain Sonic.

He demonstrates this straightforward approach with the Monaco Highball, created with business partner and twin Miguel Salehi. In this true session cocktail, small amounts of French apple brandy and Italian amaro are enlivened by Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic Water.

Salehi’s Tip

To elevate even the most streamlined highball, Salehi recommends starting with a chilled Collins glass, and clear ice spears, if available. “Since highballs aren’t very technical, it’s a good opportunity to sweat the small stuff,” he explains. “Ninja ice always impresses.”

We were introduced to it at our first cocktail job at a Spanish restaurant in San Francisco,” Emilio Salehi explains. “It’s not quite as bitter as most tonics, which allows more delicate ingredients to shine.” Further, “the floral and citrus notes really cement this tonic as a top choice for a mixer.”

Meanwhile, the classic Vermut & Tonic provided inspiration for Leanne Favre’s New Crush. The head bartender at Brooklyn’s Leyenda crushes cherry tomatoes together with simple syrup for a quick burst of umami and bright acidity. A Spanish blanco vermouth adds low-ABV backbone, while a ribbon of fresh cucumber echoes the final touch, a topper of “aromatic and crisp” Fever-Tree Refreshingly Light Cucumber Tonic Water.

“The Fever-Tree Cucumber highlights the herbal qualities of the Lustau Vermut Blanco, which boasts subtle savory notes,” Favre says.  She also likes that it “contributes flavor and bubbles without a ton of sweetness.”

Meanwhile, the Colaroso, also created by Emilio and Miguel Salehi, has a playful inspiration: the fountain drinks from drive-in burger chain Sonic, which feature pebble ice. Here, the Fever-Tree Distillers Cola is accented by a spiced amaro, while oloroso sherry adds complexity and balances the sweetness. “This is a drink I used to make for myself after a shift when I wanted something sweet and low-proof,” Emilio Salehi recalls.

Haywire Highball Fever-Tree

Haywire Highball

Hayley Wilson's savory, saffron-laced shochu highball.

Ranch Mizu Fever-Tree

Ranch Mizu

Caer Maiko's “very Japanese take on Ranch Water” calls on hits of shochu and rice vinegar.

Pyogo Highball Fever-Tree

Pyogo Highball

An umami-forward variation on the classic Horse’s Neck.

Of course, there’s room for more complexity in the ever-expanding highball universe.

Wilson's Tip

“I like to layer my cocktails for visual appeal,” she notes. “But when adding the tonic, I do recommend giving a quick stir to combine before enjoying.”

“Typically, when I think of highballs, I think of long, bright and refreshing,” says Hayley Wilson, of Portland, Maine’s Hunt + Alpine Club. For her Haywire Highball, she selected a California-made shochu “with warm notes of hay and sweet mushroom,” that’s boosted by the bitter orange element in the Fever-Tree Refreshingly Light Premium Indian Tonic Water. A salted saffron syrup adds savory interest and a bright hue. “This combination makes for a malty, almost barnyard-y highball in the best way.”

Naturally, a drink with bold flavors needs a tonic that can hold its own. “The quinine and bitter orange, Fever-Tree’s defining profile, add to the complexity of a drink rather than simply thinning it out,” Wilson notes. “The high carbonation and big bubbles allow flavors, especially citrus, to pop.”

“The rice vinegar adds just enough acid to the drink without overpowering the citrus notes of the soda,” she explains.

Caer Maiko, co-founder of Austin pop-up Daijoubu, channels two aspects of her personal heritage into her Ranch Mizu, yielding what she dubs “a very Japanese take on Ranch Water,” the tequila-based highball that’s ubiquitous throughout Texas—and now beyond. Her version mixes blanco tequila with sweet potato shochu; a barspoon of rice vinegar adds piquancy. It’s all topped with a generous pour of Fever-Tree Sparkling Lime & Yuzu soda, then finished with a rim of togarashi salt.

“The rice vinegar adds just enough acid to the drink without overpowering the citrus notes of the soda,” she explains.

Luthman’s Tip

“Syrups will always add sweetness and flavor, but they also add body to your cocktails. A richer syrup may add too much texture to your highball, which can make it seem heavy on the palate. Play around with your ratios [of sugar to liquid] and different kinds of sweeteners, to see which ones work best for what you are trying to accomplish!”

Meanwhile, Parker Luthman of The Eddy in Providence, Rhode Island, gives his Pyogo Highball a savory boost with a housemade shiitake syrup. Pyogo is the Korean name for shiitake mushroom; Luthman’s Korean heritage is further represented here with soju.

“Dehydrated mushrooms are often used as the base for many soups and stocks, so I wanted to use the resulting liquid as the base of a highball instead,” he explains. Fever-Tree Ginger Ale provided the right counterpoint for a drink with richer, culinary-inspired flavors.

“Ginger … can really lift and complement the flavors of other ingredients, while adding its own character and spice,” Luthman notes. “Fever-Tree’s Ginger Ale is refreshingly dry, spiced and intensely aromatic from its blend of gingers, so it is incredibly versatile when creating cocktails.”


Fever! Til You Swizzle

Sam Miller’s modern highball conjures flavors of the holidays.

Grapefruit Collins Fever-Tree

Grapefruit Collins

Sam Kiley gives this rum highball a tropical twist.

Miller's Tip

“Whenever I make a highball with crushed ice, I always swizzle to get the perfect blend of flavor. The addition of crushed ice also softens the drink over time, so enjoy as soon as you are done swizzling.”

Tropical cocktails often are known for their boozy strength, but two bartenders have found ways to channel tropical fruit and appropriately elaborate construction into their highballs.

For his Fever! Til You Swizzle, Sam Miller, Salt Lake City-based bartender, leaned into the warming spice of Fever-Tree, swizzling it with aged rum, banana liqueur and allspice dram, topping it all off with a toothsome spiced candied orange wheel.

“I enjoy using Fever-Tree Ginger Beer in my cocktails because of its bold, fresh ginger flavor profile,” Miller explains. While it stands up well to aged and overproof rums, it’s also his go-to for nonalcoholic drinks, he adds. “Fever-Tree isn’t overly sweet, so you have the ability to add spice or fruit syrups to your N/A beverage and still have a balanced drink.”

Kiley’s Tip

“When making crushed ice at home, put ice in two Ziploc bags. Wrap with a kitchen towel and use a rolling pin or something nonglass to crush on a hard, nonbreakable surface. Get your arms in bartender shape!”

Finally, a tropical-tinged highball features an ombre-pink appearance as a whimsical touch. The Grapefruit Collins devised by Sam Kiley, of Cane & Table in New Orleans, takes inspiration from two exotic drinks, the Saturn and the Dr. Funk, but transforms them with the use of Fever-Tree Sparkling Pink Grapefruit soda.

“The herbaceousness of the anisette plays so well with grapefruit and the passion fruit,” Kiley says, while the lemon and fennel garnishes provide freshness and pleasing aesthetics. The end product, she observes, is “easy to make, and even easier to drink.”

Tagged: fever tree