highballEngland, early 19th century

The mission here with “Home Bar Basics (and Not-So-Basics)” is to make the sometimes-intimidating world of cocktails accessible to all interested. But as much as we cocktail nerds love our Old Fashioneds and Manhattans, even those relatively simple drinks are complex and fussy compared to the family of drinks known as “Highballs” – a shot of booze with a non-alcoholic fizzy mixer served tall over ice, nothing more. I’ll be a purist here and say that adding anything else – even just a squeeze of juice – takes it out of Highball territory: the simple Rum & Coke becomes a Cuba Libre if you add lime juice (and a bit of gin and Angostura, as in the fancy version in my book). One addition makes good sense, though – a pinch of oils from a citrus zest garnish adds brightness and dimension to the mix.

But listen: simple doesn’t mean dumb. Highballs, like any other drink, are done well when one pays attention to the details: measure your pours, use high-quality ingredients, and employ good ice. A common mistake home bartenders make is eyeballing proportions that will fill whatever glass is on hand (“what is it… 50/50? oh well, down the hatch”). The standard Highball mix is a two ounces of booze with three ounces of mixer – like the previously-detailed Pimm’s Cup. Ideally, you’ll have dedicated Highball glasses around 10 ounces in capacity (shorter & wider than a Collins glass – but one of those will do in a pinch). Resist the urge to fill a bigger glass: either add more ice or just live with the glass not being full!

The name “Highball” came from the Irish, who call for their drink of choice as a “ball o’ malt” – so, simply a tall serving of whiskey (“boll” is Flemish for “glass” – the Dutch brought the term to England along with their genever, then to Ireland). Far as we can tell, the original Highball was the Scotch & Soda, mixed by people in the UK as soon as they could get their hands on the carbonated water first manufactured by J.J. Schweppe in Geneva and London. From there, it spread to Ireland, then Boston & New York. With the popularity of sodas like Coca-Cola, ginger beer, and 7-up in the late 19th and early 20th century, the Highball in all its forms became even more varied and accessible – and still reigns as the king of mixed drinks. A survey I read recently listed the top ten most popular cocktails in the US: seven out of ten were Highballs.

If you’re big on carbonated drinks, look into buying an iSi Soda Siphon for a steady supply of seltzer or homemade soda straight from the fridge.

GIN & TONIC

THE KIT

Hardware: Barspoon, Jigger, Straw (optional)
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Highball or Collins glass
Spirit: London Dry gin (recommended: Beefeater, Tanqueray)
Mixer: Tonic water (recommended: Fever-Tree Tonic Water or mix your own with Small Hands Yeoman Tonic Syrup)
Garnish: Lemon twist

HOW TO

Pinch a lemon twist into a Highball or Collins glass to express its oils, then reserve the twist. Fill the glass with cracked ice, then add:

2 oz London Dry gin
3
 oz tonic water

Stir well to blend and chill, then pinch the twist again over the top of the drink and garnish. Optionally, serve with a straw.


VODKA & SODA

THE KIT

Hardware: Barspoon, Jigger, Straw (optional)
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Highball or Collins glass
Spirit: vodka (recommended: Absolut)
Mixer: seltzer (recommended: Fever-Tree Soda Water or carbonate your own)
Garnish: Two lemon twists

HOW TO

Pinch two lemon twists into a Highball or Collins glass to completely express their oils, then reserve one twist. Fill the glass with cracked ice, then add:

2 oz vodka
3
 oz seltzer

Stir well to blend and chill, then pinch the reserved twist again over the top of the drink and garnish. Optionally, serve with a straw.


RUM & COKE

THE KIT

Hardware: Barspoon, Jigger, Straw (optional)
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Highball or Collins glass
Spirit: Dark Jamaican rum (recommended: Coruba)
Mixer: Coca-Cola (if you can find imported Mexican Coke, your drink will be even better)
Garnish: Lime twist (try to get the most peel you can from the lime in one single piece)

HOW TO

Pinch a lime twist into a Highball or Collins glass to express its oils, then reserve the twist. Fill the glass with cracked ice, then add:

2 oz dark Jamaican rum
3 oz Coca-Cola

Stir well to blend and chill, then pinch the reserved twist again over the top of the drink and garnish. Optionally, serve with a straw.


SCOTCH & SODA

THE KIT

Hardware: Barspoon, Jigger, Straw (optional)
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Highball or Collins glass
Spirit: Scotch whisky (recommended: The Famous Grouse)
Mixer: seltzer (recommended: Fever-Tree Soda Water)
Garnish: Lemon twist

HOW TO

Pinch a lemon twist into a Highball or Collins glass to express its oils, then reserve the twist. Fill the glass with cracked ice, then add:

2 oz Scotch whisky
3
 oz seltzer

Stir well to blend and chill, then pinch the twist again over the top of the drink and garnish. Optionally, serve with a straw.


WHISKEY & GINGER

THE KIT

Hardware: Barspoon, Jigger, Straw (optional)
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Highball or Collins glass
Spirit: Irish whiskey (recommended: Jameson)
Mixer: Ginger Beer (recommended: Barritt’s or Reed’s)
Garnish: Lemon twist

HOW TO

Pinch a lemon twist into a Highball or Collins glass to express its oils, then reserve the twist. Fill the glass with cracked ice, then add:

2 oz Irish whiskey
3
 oz ginger beer

Stir well to blend and chill, then pinch the twist again over the top of the drink and garnish. Optionally, serve with a straw.


JACK & COKE

THE KIT

Hardware: Barspoon, Jigger, Straw (optional)
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Highball or Collins glass
Spirit: Tennessee whiskey (recommended: George Dickel)
Mixer: Coca-Cola (if you can find imported Mexican Coke, your drink will be even better)
Garnish: Lemon twist

HOW TO

Pinch a lemon twist into a Highball or Collins glass to express its oils, then reserve the twist. Fill the glass with cracked ice, then add:

2 oz Tennessee whiskey
3
 oz Coca-Cola

Stir well to blend and chill, then pinch the twist again over the top of the drink and garnish. Optionally, serve with a straw.

nuinuiDon the Beachcomber (1937)

File under “semi-obscure-but-completely-delicious.”

When Don the Beachcomber moved into an expanded location across the street from their original spot in Hollywood, they also expanded the drinks menu. The “Pupule” was one they added to the lineup – another dimensionalized riff on the Planter’s Punch, this time mixing orange and lime for the sour element, and merging sweet and spicy with flavors of allspice, vanilla, and cinnamon. I imagine Donn’s customers had a good number of juvenile laughs at the name (Poo Poo? Purple? Pustule?) before he changed it to “Nui Nui” around 1941 (much better, it means “Big-Big” or “Extra-Large” in Maori).

In spite of the boastful name, booze-wise this drink is no big deal. Same amount of rum as a little Daiquiri – but they still enforced a three-per-customer limit on this one. Most likely to appeal to the macho types who felt their masculinity threatened by all the orchids and whatnot. “Are you man enough to handle three of these?” and so on.

A note on orange juice – lemon and lime juice is always fresh in these recipes, but it’s easy to assume that pasteurized orange juice from concentrate, the breakfast staple, is the same thing as fresh-squeezed. Short answer: it ain’t. You gotta squeeze an orange, sorry. But before you do, prepare the garnish, a long orange peel – like a whole orange peeled all the way around and around with a Y-peeler. Feel free to use whatever size peel you like and decorate as you prefer: the original hung the peel out of the drink and down the side of the mug or glass; I like coiling it up like a crown and loading with more ice.

You’ll need three syrups or liqueurs for this: pimento dram, cinnamon syrup, and vanilla syrup – see recipes here if you’re up for the effort (and the necessary time) to make them yourself at home… but a great alternative is BG Reynolds‘ fantastic line of tiki syrups from Portland, Oregon.

If you’re going through all the fun to make this fantastic drink, why not serve it in a vintage tiki mug? Great finds can be had at thrift stores occasionally, or check online at Etsy‘s vintage shops.

THE KIT

Hardware: Electric blender, Jigger, Straws (optional)
Ice: Cracked ice
Glassware: Tiki mug or Collins glass
Spirits: Amber rum (recommended: Cruzan Aged Dark – or Havana Club Añejo Especial if you can get it)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Pimento Dram, Vanilla Syrup, Cinnamon syrup
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Orange juice, Angostura bitters, Orange peel

HOW TO

In an electric blender, add:

2 1/2 oz amber rum
3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz orange juice
3/4 oz cinnamon syrup
1 tsp vanilla syrup
1 tsp pimento dram
1 dash Angostura bitters
3/4 cup cracked ice

Flash blend five seconds to quickly mix – meaning just turn the blender on, then off again. Pour unstrained into a tiki mug or Collins glass. Garnish with a long orange peel. Optionally, serve with two straws.

planters_punchCaribbean, generally (1700s)
Jamaica (1878)

Truth is, I’ve been remiss. Planter’s Punch certainly qualifies as a “basic drink,” one of perhaps a handful of core templates that inspire countless variations. You have the “cocktailOld Fashioned (template: spirit, sugar, bitters, rock ice), the “aromaticMartini (template: 2:1 spirit / aromatized wine, served up), the “sourDaiquiri (template: 2:1:1 spirit / citrus / sweet, up), the… um… “CollinsTom Collins (template: 2:1:1 spirit / citrus / sweet with dilution & bubbles, served tall), and the punch – simply a large-format Collins with the addition of spice. Some other oddball drinks are out there, either part of a smaller family or black sheep out on their own: drinks like Egg Nog, Irish Coffee, Ramos Gin Fizz. The world of cocktails is chaotic and resists tidy taxonomy. But some rules do apply, whether these drinks like it or not.

So, as a punch, this came to British and Dutch sailors by way of the Caribbean – and from there to the world. Punch was all the rage in Colonial America and held dominance at the local watering hole until the mid-1800s, when the pace of life quickened and people just couldn’t take the time to spend hours imbibing socially. I can’t imagine what they would think of today’s world, poor souls. Drinks became reduced down to individual portions, and the Planter’s Punch in particular was a popular novelty for tourists visiting Jamaica’s Hotel Titchfield and Myrtle Bank Hotel. Myers’s Rum even rebranded their labels as the Planter’s Punch rum in the 1930s. You may have heard different versions of this rhyming recipe for punch: “one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak, and a touch of spice to make it nice.” The sour is typically lime, the sweet is almost always just simple syrup (but a bit of grenadine is not uncommon), the strong is our old buddy rum, and the weak is dilution – from shaking with ice, from serving over ice, and from seltzer. The spice is simply Angostura bitters, potent with Caribbean spices like cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg.

Now, were we to strictly follow that singsong rhyme, this drink would come out unbalanced. That 1-2-3-4-5 thing works in a punch bowl, where moderate dilution is welcome. Punch (in that format) is meant to be sipped communally over a long conversation. This is more of a solitary sipper – better suited to a lazy afternoon in the hammock. Side note: progressing from its popularity as a tropical refresher, Planter’s Punch became the inspiration for many successful tall tiki drinks beginning with Don the Beachcomber’s Zombie. When dimensionalized into a tiki drink, the strong component can change from one rum to four rums. The sweet can be a mix of multiple syrups and tropical flavors. Spice is often integrated into the syrups, like the ginger kick in falernum or the allspice in pimento dram. Try this simple, direct version – then give the tiki approach a go and see what you come up with!

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Barspoon, Cocktail pick, Straw (optional)
Ice: Ice cubes, Cracked ice
Glassware: Collins glass
Spirits: Dark Jamaican rum (recommended: Coruba)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Simple syrup, Seltzer (or sparkling mineral water (recommended: Pellegrino))
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Lime wheel

HOW TO

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

2 oz dark Jamaican rum
1 oz lime juice
3/4
 oz simple syrup
2
dashes Angostura bitters

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into a Collins glass filled about two-thirds of the way up with cracked ice. Top with:

1 1/2 oz seltzer

Stir lightly to blend and garnish with a lime wheel. Optionally, serve with a straw.