How to make a Highball whisky cocktail, and how to enjoy Highballs in the sky

let’s begin

It is no secret that I love a Highball, it is possibly the simplest whisky cocktail / serve to create on paper, but takes time, care and attention to get it right, which is why below are the steps showing you how to make a highball whisky cocktail.

Just ask the Japanese bartenders I was hanging out with in Tokyo, these things are not just ‘measure of whisky in, ice in and add a load of soda’, these drinks are layered.

Here’s how to make a highball whisky cocktail, the GreatDrams way:

  • Take a tall glass and fill with ice – preferably large chunks of ice as you want it to dilute slowly, not as soon as the whisky is added
  • Now pour 50ml of your whisky of choice into the glass
  • Stir the whisky gently, but with rhythm so that it chills right down with the ice – I would suggest doing this for around thirty to forty-five seconds at a minimum to get it to the right temperature and viscosity
  • Gently pour 150ml of chilled soda water into the glass, stirring as you do
  • The ice will have diluted slightly, leaving room for more ice to be added to the glass so do so so that the glass is filled with ice – this will further stop dilution taking place too quickly
  • Continue to stir for about thirty seconds and that’s how you make a Highball!

Now, the whisky you choose is important as it will create a slightly different drink each time, I typically rotate between these options:


  • Aberfeldy 12 Year Old for loads of flavour owing to the signature honey flavour note
  • Ballantine’s Finest for something very light, enjoyable and dangerously drinkable
  • Yoichi Japanese Single Malt for something a bit exotic, yet remaining light and creamy
  • Laphroaig 10 Year Old for a bit of power, although in truth I reduce the measure to about 20 – 30ml here as the peat note cuts through the soda a bit much with a larger measure

But I know what you are thinking, this is all well and good but what if I happen to be in business class on a flight from Tokyo Haneda to London with BA, or Manchester to New York JFK with Virgin Atlantic, or Amsterdam to Toronto with KLM or Manchester to Dubai with Emirates.

It just so happens I have taken each of these routes in the last year, with each of those airlines so am here to tell you that you that it is tough, but not impossible to have fantastic Highballs in the sky with these guys.

The key here is to not trust their bar skills; the majority of the staff on these airlines pour cocktails from Funkin Cocktail packs, or are reading the menu as they make them, so I would avoid asking them to do a lot at the bar apart from pouring neat whisky, chilled champagne or bringing you a mint tea.

for example:

British Airways over whisky’d my ‘whisky and soda’ request, pouring a full 50ml Johnnie Walker Black Label into the glass then lobbing in a full can of soda water with no ice in sight.

Emirates had probably the best attempt to make it themselves, although it was not balanced correctly and needed a fair amount of guidance, and even then it was 99% soda and only a dash of whisky.

KLM were baffled at the suggestion of whisky mixed with soda, did not have soda so used still water and got it all wrong.

Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class was by far the easiest to deal with as I did not give them the choice of screwing it up; I asked for ice, soda and whisky separately. Sadly they had no stirrers, which was odd, so I had to use a pen, which is not the worst thing in the world but quite unexpected.

Virgin are also very generous with their pours so the measure of whisky they poured was around 125ml, seriously, so I had to drink a bit of it then decided there was no need in getting rid of it, especially as it was a Glen Deveron 16 Year Old, so split it across two highballs.

The key to enjoying Highballs in the sky, or Skyballs, is to do your best to get the component parts and build it yourself using the outline how to make a highball whisky cocktail method above, otherwise god knows what monstrosity you might be faced with.

Failing that, just ask for a neat whisky, and make it a double.

Tags: HighballHighball whisky cocktailTokyowhisky cocktail
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My name is Greg, and I’m a brand strategy consultant, writer, speaker, host and judge specialising in premium spirits. My mission is to experience, share and inspire with everything great about whisky, whiskey, gin, beer and fine dining through my writing, my brand building and my whisky tastings.

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