The highball is a timeless template that’s as easy to make as it is to drink. The most minimal in the canon of classics, the format nevertheless allows for plenty of experimentation, whether it’s with the base spirit or liqueur, the modifiers you turn to for bitter, herbal or acidic complexity, or the effervescent topper.
Adding tropical dimension, for example, is as easy as swapping out sparkling water for coconut water. The switch results in any number of simple two-ingredient recipes, like the classic Scotch & Coconut or the rum-based Coconut Water Highball. Calpico can also stand in place of the typical soda water; the cultured dairy drink brings a creamy texture and a lactic tang, which amplifies botanicals in spirits like gin. Alternatively, topping with a bitter soda, such as Sanbittèr or Stappi, is a fast track to a refreshing aperitivo drink.
Turning to less expected combinations is another easy way to refresh the two-ingredient format. Grape soda and green Chartreuse or Mountain Dew and Suze are just a few examples of these bartender-backed “oddball highballs.” Finally, aside from tinkering with the base spirit and sparkling topper, simply adding a few modifiers can create extra layers of flavor or texture to the traditional two-ingredient highball. Citrus stock, for example, made with a blend of citrus husks or peels, adds an easy pop of acidity to any drink—try it in something like the Kitty Highball or the Añejo Highball in place of lemon or lime juice. Or, turn to a sweetener like silky simple syrup for added body and richness. Ultimately, the highball is a forgiving format, so mix and match these techniques with your favorite base and make the drink your own.