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.

hardlywallbangerSycamore Den, San Diego, CA (2013)

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s generally acknowledged the ’70s and ’80s were the Dark Times of 20th-century drinkmaking. Maybe cocktail culture just wasn’t high on the priority list: America had just emerged from a decade of radical upheaval and change: the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war, the sexual revolution, the emergence of the psychedelic youth culture, and the best blues, soul, rock, pop, and country music ever created. The ’70s presented a new set of challenges: ending a war, firing a president, finding equality for gays and lesbians, running out of gas, and dealing with out-of-control pollution. The general question seemed to be, “so… now what?” The general answer (in the face of all this heaviness) seemed to be, “Have a Good Time.”

Drinks in the ’70s were all about stupid simplicity: Margarita (José Cuervo & Sour Mix), Rum & Coke, Screwdriver (vodka & orange juice). People didn’t go to bars for a culinary experience – they went to bars to get laid. Drinks functioned as alcohol-delivery systems to loosen libidos and, maybe, indicators of what lay ahead in the night: Margarita drinkers were partiers, Screwdriver drinkers couldn’t handle strong feelings (or flavors), Rusty Nail drinkers had fingers that smelled like an ashtray.

The original Harvey Wallbanger recipe, as promoted by Galliano, was a softer Screwdriver (that was already disappointingly limp): one ounce of vodka, six ounces of orange juice (most likely pasteurized, from concentrate) and a half-ounce float of Galliano, the herbal Italian vanilla-and-anise liqueur. Not a very interesting mix – but the seed of an idea is there.

San Diego bartender Eric Johnson is too young to have suffered the drinks of the ’70s, but he has an appreciation for “The Me Decade.” He designed the bar menu at Sycamore Den, a new hot spot in Normal Heights that celebrates the glorious awfulness of those days with diagonal wood paneling, a sunken “conversation pit,” macramé, and swag lamps. I’m convinced there’s a hidden “Dad’s rec room” somewhere on the premises with shag carpeting, a hi-fi, a bong, and a stack of vintage Swank magazines. The drinks at Sycamore Den are contemporary, though (you didn’t see too much mezcal, Suze, absinthe, or Aperol on ’70s menus)… with one exception: the Hardly Wallbanger. Johnson was curious about the original Harvey Wallbanger and couldn’t figure out what accounted for its popularity. Marketing can only go so far, you know. Johnson told me, “I definitely was loving Galliano and wanted to showcase the liqueur over the neutral spirit, vodka. I added vanilla to satisfy my sweet tooth and was thinking ‘Orange Julius’ after a couple attempts. I had the staff test it out and all were nodding or banging their heads in approval!” The Hardly Wallbanger chucks what’s bad about the original and enhances everything good – keeping its creamy orange-and-vanilla lightness, adding a subtle tartness, and shining a light on the recently-reformulated Galliano’s intriguing herbal blend.

Keep an eye on what oranges you use in this – Valencias will be sweeter, so you’ll probably want to dial down the simple syrup to a quarter-ounce. If you’re using the more common Navel oranges, stick with a half-ounce. Use real vanilla extract, not imitation vanilla flavor – even though it’s just a few drops, you’ll know the difference.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Barspoon, Eyedropper, Cocktail pick, Straw (optional)
Ice: Ice cubes, Cracked ice
Glassware: Collins glass
Spirit: vodka (recommended: Karlsson’s Gold, Absolut)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Galliano, Simple syrup, Seltzer (or tonic water (recommended: Fever-Tree) or sparkling mineral water (recommended: Pellegrino))
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Orange juice, Lemon juice, Vanilla extract, Orange wheel, Cherry (recommended: Filthy amarena, Luxardo maraschino)

HOW TO

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

1 1/2 oz vodka
1 oz Galliano
2 
oz orange juice
1/2
oz lemon juice
1/2 
oz simple syrup
3 
drops vanilla extract

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

2 oz seltzer

Add additional ice as needed. Stir lightly to blend and garnish with an orange wheel and cherry pierced on a cocktail pick. Optionally, serve with a straw.

bloodymaryParis, France (1930s)

Making just one Bloody Mary is a pain in the ass. Even at its simplest (vodka, tomato juice, lemon juice, Worchestershire, horseradish, salt & pepper), it’s pretty complicated. Making a batch of homemade Bloody Mary mix, on the other hand, is fun and easy. Sometimes things work out for a reason: This is a morning drink like no other, and who wants to hassle with a making a drink when you’re foggy in the head and grumpy? Have a batch of this mix on hand in the fridge and you’re good to go.

Most cocktail archaeologists agree this drink started as a simple highball of vodka and tomato juice at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris during Prohibition, where bartender Fernand “Pete” Petiot served these to American expatriates and tourists. On his post-Prohibition stint at New York City’s St. Regis Hotel King Cole Bar, Petiot spiced up the flavor by swapping gin for vodka and adding lemon juice, horseradish, hot sauce, celery salt, and black pepper as a “Red Snapper.” It wasn’t long before people fell in love with this bizarre combination – savory and nourishing with just enough buzz to change your mind about being awake. And of course, as the tide turned mid-century, vodka elbowed out the gin and took back its original spot.

The recipe that follows below is based on Jeffrey Morgenthaler‘s contemporary mix, about as full of flavor as you can get. It’s a fancified and brunch-worthy take on the original. It’ll make about a quart of Bloody Mary mix, enough for eight servings. Batch more if you think you’ll need it – it’ll keep refrigerated for a couple weeks.

The fun thing about the Bloody Mary is its flexibility: Start with this version as a template and feel free to personalize it as you like. Dial the spiciness up or down, add different fresh juices, go crazy with the garnishes. I’ve seen everything topping this drink from a stack of olives to bacon to beef jerky. Even saw one once garnished with a small hamburger, it was ridiculous. Make it with gin instead of vodka for the original Red Snapper, with tequila for a Bloody Maria, with Irish whiskey for a Bloody Molly. Some bars have complete menus of Bloody Mary variations. In Canada, they make this with Clamato (a blend of tomato and clam juices) for a Bloody Caesar.

There’s really only one rule about the Bloody Mary: don’t drink them after sunset. It’s meant to pair with the morning paper and a good long stare out the window while you come back to life.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Electric blender, Sieve, Straw (optional)
Ice: Ice Cubes
Glassware: Collins glass
Spirit: Vodka (recommended: Karlsson’s Gold, Absolut)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Canned tomatoes, whole or diced (recommended: Muir Glen fire-roasted), Lemon juice, Garlic, Avocado, Worchestershire sauce, Steak sauce (recommended: A-1 or HP), Hot sauce (recommended: Crystal or Tabasco), Fresh-grated or “prepared” horseradish (not horseradish sauce), Celery salt, Black pepper, Chili powder (recommended: dried and pulverized New Mexico or Ancho chilis – not powdered chili mix), Lemon wedge, Celery stalk

HOW TO

BLOODY MARY MIX
In an electric blender, combine:
2 14.5-ounce cans tomatoes
1 small garlic clove
1 quarter avocado

Blend well to liquify, then pour into a quart jar and add:
1 oz Worcestershire sauce
3/4 oz lemon juice
1 tsp steak sauce
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp celery salt
1 tsp hot sauce
1/2 tsp horseradish
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 cup water

BLOODY MARY
In a shaker filled with ice cubes, add:

2 oz vodka
4 oz Bloody Mary mix

Roll gently (just glide from one side of the shaker to the other – shaking will foam the tomato juice) to blend and chill. Strain into an ice cube-filled Collins glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge and celery stalk. Optionally, serve with a straw.

Tagged with: