Spirit, bubbly mixer and ice: The simple perfection of the highball is undeniable, making for an ideal cocktail for the home bartender. The formula also offers plenty of opportunity for experimenting and ingredient swaps, necessary in a time when a quick run to the store isn’t as straightforward as it used to be.
Even without an expert at-home bar setup, ingredients you likely have on hand already—spirits like mezcal and rum and modifiers like Campari and vermouth—deliver premium results in a highball. Easy infusions, custom syrups and plug-and-play garnishes, using pantry staples and whatever is already in the crisper drawer, can take the flavor profile up a notch and provide a use for something that may be on the edge of getting tossed.
A guiding principle in such a simple build is always the quality of the ingredients—which includes the bubbles. This is not the time for that long-gone-flat 2-liter of tonic in the back of the fridge. Instead, look to quality mixers, like those from Fever-Tree, with tonic waters ranging in levels of bitterness, made with quinine from the fever trees of eastern Africa. With an extensive range of classic flavors, as well as summer-ready twists such as elderflower and cucumber, there’s a tonic for every cocktail.
Here, we’ve asked five of our Bartender in Residence alumni to reimagine the highball, using in each an offering from the Fever-Tree lineup and asking that they keep things simple when it comes to modifiers, housemade items and even the tools needed to stir up high-impact results.
Annie Williams Pierce, of Law Bird in Columbus, Ohio, reached for Fever-Tree’s signature mixer, Indian Tonic Water. “It’s so great for so many reasons,” says Williams Pierce, who appreciates the ability of the bitter orange and quinine flavors to accentuate citrus oils in drinks, and even stand in for those without citrus. For her Fluttershy Highball, she goes for full-on summer flavors by infusing a semisweet French vermouth with farmers market strawberries, then pairing the vermouth with mezcal, fino sherry and a few drops of saline solution—what she calls the unsung hero of the home bar—to enhance the bright bitterness of the tonic. “Simple infusions are great for home bartending because you end up with two awesome ingredients,” she says, of the vermouth-spiked strawberries. “You can make ice cream, bake them in a tart, or put them in milkshakes,” says Williams Pierce, who isn’t against adding them to the drink itself for an extra flavor boost.
With her Fruit Me Out, Natasha Bermudez, head bartender of Llama San in Manhattan, marries a Kingston Negroni and a Sbagliato by uniting bittersweet Campari and Jamaican rum, rich with notes of caramelized tropical fruit. A scant barspoon (or coffee spoon) of store-bought berry preserves adds a layer of fragrant sweetness. The highball then gets topped off with Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic Water, a delicate, aromatic mixer with a softly bitter kick, the result of using less quinine. “It has lasting bubbles,” says Bermudez, who likes to pair the complex yet versatile tonic with spirits like rum, pisco and amaro. “It softens the dryness and adds a beautiful bittersweet note on your back- and midpalate.”
For his aromatic highball, the Trailblazer, Vince Bright, of Chicago’s Lost Lake, took the turn-key combination of vermouth and tonic in a new direction. After trying out several sweet vermouths before settling on the light and floral Dolin Rouge, Bright added an element of vanilla spice courtesy of rhum agricole. The ginger and cardamom notes come from the Fever-Tree Aromatic Tonic Water, which finishes off the drink with a pleasing pink hue, courtesy of angostura bark from South America. “The angostura bark brings a ton of versatility and goes a long way to elevate a tonic drink by adding bitterness,” says Bright. Don’t be discouraged if you only have access to what Bright dubs “gas station ice”—wet, irregularly shaped cubes that can quickly overdilute a cocktail. He adapts by hand-picking the best cubes and giving a quick, three-second stir before topping with tonic. “You want to make sure everything gets incorporated,” he says. “But be careful not to add too much water [via diluted ice] before adding the tonic.”
Lauren Corriveau, developer for Proprietors LLC in Los Angeles, remains true to the spirit of the highball formula with her Lost Time, but takes things to the next level courtesy of a splash of the gentian-based French aperitif Suze and an easy-to-make infusion of Calvados and fresh celery. “I wanted to create something that could be simply added to a glass with limited fuss or bar tools needed, and stay true to a classic highball build,” she says. Corriveau uses Fever-Tree Elderflower Tonic Water, what she calls a “great beginner’s tonic,” to bring on the crisp bubbles; here, its “floral and earthy complexity” plays well with the earthy notes of Suze and the fruity, mineral-forward Calvados base. “Fever-Tree Elderflower Tonic is an effervescent infusion of sweet and floral elderflower with a pleasantly bitter finish,” says Corriveau. “The flavor truly lends itself to any spirit but will especially accent those with vegetal notes, like tequila, gin or even peated Scotch.”
Fanny Chu, head bartender of Donna Cocktail Club in Brooklyn, shares a pool-ready recipe that offers double the fun with one spirited and one non-alcoholic take, both brought together by Fever-Tree’s cucumber-flavored tonic. “It is refreshing and vegetal,” says Chu, who finds it plays especially well with agave spirits like mezcal, which she partners here with bitter Campari. The rest of this “summer salad” of a low-ABV cocktail, which she anointed BeyBey’s Mama, were inspired by the contents of her refrigerator. Juicy watermelon and sweet and salty bread-and-butter pickle brine come together for unexpectedly refreshing results, especially when cut with the crisp brightness of the cucumber tonic. This and the spirit-free Hey, BeyBey! are garnished with a surfboard-shaped slice of cucumber that Chu also uses as the stirrer—an ultimate, and tasty, home bartending hack.