Highball etymology, types, and recipes

A highball is a type of cocktail, characterized by whiskey or brandy mixed with sparkling water or another beverage. In this article, we’ll explore the history of highballs, how they’re made, and the different types and recipes.

clear drinking glass with ice and lemon

History of highball

The highball began as a popular way of drinking among the British upper class in the 19th century. Back then, whiskey with soda was known as a Scotch and soda or whiskey and soda. This method became very popular when it crossed over to the United States, and bartenders began to refer to cocktails made this way as highballs. The name highball was a slang term used among bartenders.

The etymology of the name highball has several stories. Highball was a way of signaling the departure of a train by suspending a ball on a string, as there was no such thing as a whistle at the time. The story goes that this is when the name of the drink became highball (=high balloon). If the balloons on the kick-off signals next to the train line were hanging high, it meant that the line was empty and there was no need to stop or slow down. That’s why the cry “highball” was also used to start a stopped train. The drink was named Highball because it was quick to make and meant to be enjoyed lightly.

At the time, the word “highball” was also used as a slang term for something that needed to be done quickly or in a hurry, and the quick-serving nature of the drink compared to other cocktails is said to have led to its use as slang among bartenders working in train dining cars. It is also said that on steam locomotives, the gauge of speed and pressure was the height of the ball, and that at full speed, the ball would float high, so the term highball was coined because it resembled the appearance of ice floating in a tall glass.

Another theory is that it was once a thirst-quenching beverage consumed during a game of golf, a sport played by the British upper class, but since a round of golf takes a long time, it became quite a drink, and towards the end of the round, players would get drunk and the ball would often go in the wrong place, leading to frequent shouts of “High[3] Ball”.

Highball Recipe

A highball is made by adding a certain amount of spirits to an ice-filled tumbler glass and pouring sparkling water or another carbonated beverage on top. Typically, whiskey is used, but brandy or other spirits can also be used. You can also add a squeeze of lemon or lime for a refreshing flavor.

To make a highball, you’ll need a few materials and tools. You’ll need ice, a tumbler glass, whiskey or other spirits, sparkling water or other carbonated beverage, and fruit like lemon or lime. First, fill a tumbler glass with ice, then add the whiskey on top. Then pour in sparkling water or another carbonated beverage, and add a squeeze of lemon or lime for a refreshing flavor. Finally, give it a good stir and your highball is ready.

Different types of highballs and recipes

Highballs come in many varieties and recipes. The most basic form is a Scotch and soda, where you mix Scotch whisky with soda. In addition to these, gin and tonics, Long Island iced tea, bloody marys, and screwdrivers are also cocktails and count as types of highballs in the highball world. That’s because a highball is itself a type of cocktail.

Scotch and soda

Scotch and soda is the most basic highball. It’s made with a mixture of Scotch whisky and soda, and has a cool, refreshing flavor. Add the scotch whiskey to a tumbler glass filled with ice, then pour the soda over the top. Stir well and voila!

Gin and tonic

A gin and tonic is a highball made with gin whiskey and tonic water. Gin whiskey has a luxurious, full-bodied flavor, and when paired with tonic water, it’s a refreshing and special treat. Add the gin whiskey to a tumbler filled with ice, then pour the tonic water over the top.

Long Island Iced Tea

Long Island iced tea is a highball made from a mixture of different alcoholic beverages. We typically use whiskey, rum, vodka, gin, triple sec, etc. Mix each alcoholic beverage in the proper proportions, add to a tumbler glass filled with ice, and you’re done.

Bloody Mary

A Bloody Mary is a highball made with vodka and tomato juice. The flavor of the tomato is combined with the aroma of the vodka. It’s made by combining vodka and tomato juice in an ice-filled tumbler glass, and adding any spices or sauces of your choice.


The Screwdriver is a highball made with vodka and orange juice, giving it a refreshing orange flavor. Simply combine the vodka and orange juice in a tumbler glass filled with ice, and stir well.

There are many other types of highballs, and you can play them to your own taste.

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