With our Peat Chimney Highball outperforming many of its competitors at this year's IWSC, we thought we would take a deep dive into this famed drink once dubbed the 'Splificator'...
For those unaware, a 'Highball' consists of ice in a tall glass with one part Scotch to three parts Soda. It is quickly regaining recognition as the way to preserve the enjoyment of whisky for a longer time. As an easy thing to make we would certainly recommend you try this classic if you haven't already!
As with most origination attempts, there are various theories as to the invention of the 'Highball' by method and by name; from railroads to royalty choose your favourite!
The British (and most probable...) route
With the invention of coal-powered glass blowing, the British were the first to develop glass bottles strong enough to withstand the pressure of carbonation with the first English sparkling wine appearing in the mid-1600s (French bubbles did not appear until towards the end of that century). 100 years later Joseph Priestley successfully created a method for artificially carbonating water and this 'soda water' quickly became a fan favourite of the English gentry to pair with their beloved Brandy. This was the first example of a 'Highball' to appear though with Brandy and without ice (for obvious logistical reasons, and because it simply wasn't the fashion!)
With the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th Century, Cognac ran into short supply and so Scotch became the substitute. This developed into a permanent change when the phylloxera outbreak in Europe once again decimated cognac supplies. With the purchase of Balmoral in 1852 by Prince Albert and the subsequent coining of the Castle by Queen Victoria as 'my dear paradise in the Highlands' all things north of the border came into fashion and gave birth to the Scotch and Soda. This is the most probable origin of the 'Highball' and can certainly be classed as it's predecessor.
What remains in contention however is where the name originates.
Tommy Dewar's account
Many of you will recognise 'Dewar' as one of the great Malt Scotch names of old and indeed he claimed to have invented the 'Highball' in 1891. He wrote in the Evening Statesman 14 years later that he was walking along Broadway and was asked by one his friends to 'go into the saloon and have a 'ball'. He agreed and in they ventured but after enlightening the bartender as to their wants remarked that the whisky glasses were "Beastly small". The story then goes that he asked for taller glasses so that his friend may have a 'highball' and thus the drink was created.
'Ball' here may elude to the idea of going in to have a good time... but it more likely originates from the Irish method of ordering a glass of whiskey or the English way, that made tracks at golf courses, of ordering whisky in a high glass in the late 19th century.
Patrick Gavin Duffy's claim
Patrick Gavin Duffy purports himself as bringing the Highball to America when, in 1894, a prominent English actor ordered a Scotch and Soda at his café in New York. This apparently became very popular and was the foundation on which he came to name the drink 'Highball'. The story runs away into cloudy dubiousness and was never certified but could have been at least a part of the American 'Highball' trend.
Railroad connection (probably the most fun if true!)
The connection here is a bit cloudy as there are various definitions bouncing around as to what 'highball' actually means on the railroad. Some say it was a ball raised at the end of the platform to signal that a train could leave the station after their water tank was full, paperwork in order and passengers all aboard. Others refer to it as a ball within the water tank of a steam engine to signify the water tank was at a sufficient level to carry on.
However, the one that we most like - and hope is true either way - is that the highball refers to a sort of float that would rise up to a visible level on the steam produced by the steam engine. This would signify to the driver/engineer that the train was operating at full speed and the driver would subsequently give two short and one long blow of the whistle. This is apt as the drink 'Highball' one consisted of two short pours of whisky and one long pour of mixer! Some comment that is was a lot simpler than this and the driver just would relax and have a glass of whisky - hence inventing the 'Highball'!
If you've made it all the way through this blog then you can a) call yourself a bona fide expert in the origination of the 'Highball' and b) join us in celebrating our IWSC Highball success with 10% off any of our core range! Use the code IWSC10 to claim your discount (valid only until midnight on 12/04/2023)!