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FOOD & DRINK

Why Whisky Highballs Will Be The Surprise Drink of Spring Thanks to These Creative Bartenders

Melbourne’s innovative bartenders are putting their own spin on the classic drink.
By Concrete Playground
November 08, 2019
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Why Whisky Highballs Will Be The Surprise Drink of Spring Thanks to These Creative Bartenders

Melbourne’s innovative bartenders are putting their own spin on the classic drink.
By Concrete Playground
November 08, 2019
  shares

in partnership with

It's hard to say where and when the whisky highball was first invented. The story goes that English actor E.J. Ratcliffe brought the concept to America in 1894, where a bartender at the Adams House in Boston dubbed it a 'highball'. The recipe — whisky and sparkling water in a tall glass — appeared in a book called The Mixologist in 1895, under the name 'Splificator'. But over the years, the name highball stuck — and the rules for making one vary as much as the story of its invention.

Here to shake up the whisky highball this spring are two of Melbourne's leading bartenders: Darren Leaney from cosy Carlton bar Capitano and Michael Madrusan, bartender and owner at late-night haunt Bar Margaux. Each bartender is working with Johnnie Walker to take the well-loved drink to a new level — with twists like leatherwood honey or a dash of absinthe.

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A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE HIGHBALL

During the late 19th century, there was a phylloxera epidemic that wiped out vineyards in Europe — and wine and spirits like brandy and cognac were not as readily available as they had been. The wealthier classes, who used to mix brandy and cognac with carbonated water, instead opted for blended scotch whisky with soda. And the whisky highball was born.

To make it, some say the whisky and ice needs to be stirred 13 and a half times and soda water poured down the arm of the spoon, while others tell you to keep that spoon the hell away from it. What's not debatable is the tall glass, ice, whisky and carbonated water.

Bartender pouring drink at Bar Margaux

Kate Shanasy.

Artisans of the craft know there are countless combos and garnishes available, from adding mint to a smoky whisky or introducing a lemon twist when you want to highlight the citrus notes. It's designed to have a refreshing taste, to accompany a nice meal and to bring out the flavours of the whisky.

Today, Blended Scotch Whisky has become an increasingly popular base for the highball — thanks largely to its diverse flavour notes. Johnnie Walker Black Label, for example, has layers of vanilla and dried fruits with a subtle smoky finish. That's because Johnnie Walker has 29 distilleries in Scotland, producing roughly 11 million casks of whisky from which they make their blends. It makes it the perfect starting point for a whisky highball as there's a variation that suits lots of people's palates.

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WHO'S SHAKING THINGS UP?

Highball Johnnie Walker Capitano

Kate Shanasy.

Capitano, the cosy Carlton bar from the folks behind Bar Liberty, is working with that concept to create a whisky highball that complements the killer pizzas it serves. Innovative bartender and all-round hospo legend Darren Leaney has teamed up with Johnnie Walker to take the well-loved drink to a new level. The Leatherwood Highball ($18) is made with leatherwood honey, barley tea, saline, soda and Johnnie Walker Black Label. And every night from 5.30–6.30pm you can pair a classic cheese or tomato pizza with the Leatherwood Highball for $30.

Food pairing for Johnnie Walker

Kate Shanasy.

Over at the French-inspired, late-night Bar Margaux, co-owner and bartender Michael Madrusan has come up with a deluxe, bespoke take on the classic whisky highball. It's a balanced blend of Johnnie Walker Black Label, Pommeau de Normandie (apple aperitif), lemon and a cheeky dash of absinthe. And the name? Madrusan is calling it the Tall, Dark and Then Some. To match Madrusan's creation, British-born head chef Daniel Southern has chosen panisse (chickpea fries) that'll bring out the flavours of the drink. Head to Bar Margaux between 4–6pm or after midnight on any day of the week to order a Tall, Dark and Then Some with panisse for just $20.

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Far from being just a scotch and soda, the highball is surprisingly versatile, creative and has a refreshing taste. Head to Capitano and Bar Margaux to try the creative takes on this classic drink. 

Top image: Kate Shanasy. 

Published on November 08, 2019 by Concrete Playground

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