What Is A Highball Drink And Why Is It Called That?

whiskey highballs with lemon slices
whiskey highballs with lemon slices - Bhofack2/Getty Images

Whether mixing cocktails at home or heading out for drinks with friends, you'll likely hear someone order a highball. You may not know what's being ordered, and funnily enough, the bartender might not either, despite the drink's popularity. The problem stems from the ambiguous beginnings of the highball and the fact that its name doesn't mean just one thing.

The basic definition of a highball is a drink with a small amount of alcohol and a heavy pour of some kind of soda; all served in a tall glass — a highball — hence part of the name. Depending on how your bartender learned to make the drink, they may serve you any number of alcohol-and-soda combinations, but the most traditional and alternate name for the drink is the whiskey highball. The whiskey in the drink is where the term "ball" comes in, but that's only in one of the origin stories. Each version of the highball's beginnings gives a deeper look into the world of mixology, and each provides an interesting piece of history.

Read more: 26 Popular Vodka Brands, Ranked By Their Versatility

The History Of The Highball Drink

bartender holding highball drink
bartender holding highball drink - /Getty Images

While some drinks get named simply after their creators, the highball drink has much more historical beginnings. The use of the tall or "high" glass has always been part of the story and, in some versions, is the only reason for the word's inclusion in the name. In one story, the term "ball" is attributed to the Irish slang term for whiskey. When served in a high glass with soda water, the drink officially became the High Ball, named in The Mixicologist, published in 1895, and was later shortened to highball.

The other main origin story of the drink, however, is attributed to its popularity during the prime age of the railroad. In train-speak, a highball refers to a signal for a train to proceed at full steam, acknowledged by two short train honks and then a long whistle. The highball drink is meant to mimic the aspects of the railroad signal, seeing as it's easy to make. It is characterized by two short pours of spirit followed by a heap of soda.

You can make a highball with other alcohols like vodka or gin, and there is no single type of soda to pair it with. Ginger ale and other seltzers are normal ingredients, so long as they're sparkling. Finally, you can't make a highball without a tall glass filled with ice — sorry, your mixed drink in a red Solo cup does not count as a highball.

Making And Ordering A Highball

shelves of bottles of alcohol behind a bar
shelves of bottles of alcohol behind a bar - Hiob/Getty Images

Highballs are easy to make and relatively light on alcohol, making them perfect if you aren't planning on drinking much or are bartending for a large party. The only catch is that you now know that they can come in a variety. Thankfully, the only thing that changes with highballs is the ingredients, not the way the drink is made, which can help when learning how to order a cocktail.

When ordering a highball, know that the whiskey highball will likely be the default — and if whiskey isn't your spirit of choice, you'll need to ask for modifications. Note that if you're trying to order a highball with tequila, the bartender will more commonly know that drink as ranch water. If tequila is your spirit of choice, you can try it in your own kitchen and learn to make ranch water at home like a pro.

If you are worried about flavor combinations, you'll also want to specify the type of soda you want for your highball. Ginger ale adds more flavor and can help drown out the alcohol — it's the perfect fizzy choice for a Johnny Walker ginger highball. But when making them at home, you can combine any number of flavored seltzers to see what concoctions you come up with — as long as they are served in a high glass.

Read the original article on The Daily Meal.