The Lighter Choice - How to Make Highballs and Low ABV Serves

The Lighter Choice - How to Make Highballs and Low ABV Serves

9 Jan 2024

Your new spirit mixer has arrived…the answer is WATER!

Sober curiousness is now far more than just another social trend – instead younger generations are choosing to embrace conscious consumption as a more permanent lifestyle.

For many, going ‘cold turkey’ and jumping on the teetotal bandwagon each ‘Dry January’, ‘Dry July’ and ‘Sober October’ just isn’t the way to go around fixing your relationship with alcohol. Completely abstaining from booze in a desperate ditch to fix old habits, isn’t always the solution and it doesn’t work for everybody.

‘Mindful Drinking’ encourages you to question the way you choose to drink – it’s a chance to make more conscious, informed and discerning choices. Besides, we are in 2024, so we are not starved of flavour options!

In comes the Highball – a straightforward and easy serve to help you side with the lighter choice (and the formula is so simple and easy to remember for budding home-tenders).

How to Make a Highball

Fill a tall glass with ice

50ml Spirit

Top with Soda or Tonic Water

Garnish (Choose a garnish that reflects the flavours in your spirit)

The general rule we tend to stick to is to use a 3:1 ratio of soda water to spirit. Many choose to go lighter, as the art of a good highball is its elegant simplicity – it’s not meant to be super boozy! It’s a great drink to increase your awareness of your ABV, sugar content and of course… the spirit! The highball is all about accessibility, helping you to appreciate the full scope of what your spirit has to offer. Yes, the booze is the main character, but it’s more about balance and consideration.

A New-Fashioned Serve for Whisky Lovers

Highballs are a great gateway into whisky. Topping your serve with soda water will help turn the flavour volume up higher so you can appreciate the nuances in your dram. Dilution is not the enemy – reducing the ABV of your drink calls for hidden flavours to come out of hiding and to flourish, all the while making that initial hit of alcohol less intimidating.

Exploring the world of whisky can be daunting for newcomers, crafting the perfect highball makes it less so. There’s an endless choice of styles, casks, ages, and regions to savour, so adding a splash of soda is an accessible way to discover what you like and don’t like. Here are some suggestions for those new to whisky highballs…

Beginner Whiskies for Highballs

Honeyed malt and caramel shines when soda is added to King’s Inch Single Malt Whisky – an easy sipping Lowland-style Scotch with surprising depth. A combination of ex-Bourbon and ex-Oloroso casks are married together to create the optimum flavour profile. The balance between cask types gives the whisky enough spice to provide depth while remaining accessible. Garnish with a slice of pink grapefruit and you’re onto a winner! Save £7 now.

For those who like a whisky with big notes of tropical fruit – Woven Whisky Experience No.9 is a journey of contradictions that are accentuated when married with your choice of sparkling water no less. No.9 is a dram filled with contrasts, citrus, spice and oak. Consider this blend a love letter to Leith, for a serve that doesn’t follow convention. Save £7 now.

If you’re new to Peated Whisky and after something accessibly smoky – Highland Park 12yr Single Malt Viking Honour is celebrated by industry experts for its exceptionally well balanced smoky and sweet tones. Aged in European Oak casks that were previously seasoned with Oloroso Sherry, this is a great way to explore a tasty range of whisky nuances.

If the choice of cask is sounding like your way in to discover more about your serve – Starward Nova Whisky is a fruity, double-distilled Australian single malt that’s perfect for a highball. The whisky is aged in lightly charred and steamed red-wine barrels from local vineyards (with wines such Shiraz, Cabernet, and Pinot Noir). The resulting spirit is bursting with juicy complexity and flavour from both the wine and oak. Save £2 now.

For those fans of Japanese Whisky however – we already have a whole blog dedicated to Japanese Highballs. Check it out here.

Forget Rum and Coke - Try Soda Instead! 

Just like whisky, rum lovers will understand that ‘Dry Jan’ isn’t for the dark spirit drinker. But in the same way, going for the ‘lighter choice’ can help showcase the spirit’s full potential and personality. Switch up your serve and opt for the more mindful mixer – besides, with soda you’ll actually be able to enjoy your chosen spirit, instead of an excessively sugary serve with a slight hint of rum.

Here's some rum recommendations if you’re looking for a place to start…

Rum Recommendations for Highballs

If you’re on the hunt for something new, we’ve been enjoying Don Papa Small Batch Rum, a premium, single-island rum from the Philippines. Throw in some effervescent soda water and you’ll be met with booming aromas of vanilla of fresh apricot. To taste, candied orange, dried fruit and raisin cake takes care of the palate. Simply sumptuous!

Staying on the tropical fruit train for a second, Elizabeth Yard Rum – Diamond Guyana is an outstanding rum from the Diamond Distillery. Bursting with complexity, tart tropical fruits and interlace beautifully with nuts, toffee, and brown sugar on both the nose and palate. Splash in your soda and enjoy luscious notes of coconut for a refreshingly light serve that’s exceptionally textured and well-balanced. Save £9.50 now.

Takamaka’s Spiced Rum is the original and most popular offering from the Seychelles. You can sip the rich, dark spiced rum short, but we highly recommend the longer, lighter serve to enjoy the deliciously smooth top notes of lingering vanilla and caramel in its full form. Takamaka Spiced is a harmonious blend that shines a spotlight on local flavour.

If Dark Rums are more your thing, Montanya Exclusiva Rum exudes rich and dark flavours of raw cacao nibs, ground coffee and hints of spice and fruit compote. Sounds mad, but it’s true – this rum has it all! When combined with lively soda water, notes of cinnamon, red wine, honey, and vanilla are released in full force. A dry tannic finish is what defines this aged rum, so if it’s good enough to sip neat, a rum highball will take it to a new level. Save £6.50 now!

Frozen Margs are out. Time for Tequila and Tonic

We are swapping Margaritas for the contemporary T&T – a refreshingly clearer way to explore Tequila styles. Say no to shots and opt for the lighter and ‘longer’ drinking experience. We’ve written a whole Beginner’s Guide to Tequila, talking Blanco, Reposado, Añejo, and Cristalino Tequila, if you need some help starting your agave adventure.

El Rayo Tequila are the masters of the Tequila and Tonic. ‘It’s clean. It’s natural. It’s fresh. It’s your first drink, not your last’. Opt for El Rayo Plata Tequila in your next T&T and you’ll be met with a truly modern and deliciously smooth spirit inspired by the emerging creativity in Mexico. The Plata is a clean and fresh tequila with hints of tropical citrus, fresh herbs, and a peppery finish – a perfect lead when paired with Indian tonic water and a slice of grapefruit.

Or opt for El Rayo Reposado Tequila – for a highball that exudes cooked agave and soft, warm notes of honey kissed vanilla. The general rule is that if it works well as a good quality sipping tequila, a TNT will be more than a pleasant experience too.

Flavoured Tequilas for your Tonic

If we’ve jumped the gun with classic Tequila suggestions and you’re looking to enjoy a fruiter Agave highball, look to good quality Flavoured Tequilas.

Although a Mezcal, Dangerous Don Mandarina Mezcal pushes the flavoured agave category in an exciting new direction while maintaining its authenticity. It’s a brilliant citrus variation on such a high quality mezcal, showing how accessible and easy sipping the spirit can be. Expect fresh agave sweetness, vegetal grassy notes and smoke that competes in equal measure with zesty mandarin and soft citrus. Save £7.50 Now.

Created to continue Tequila’s journey away from shot culture, Hacien have produced an easy sipping spirit worth taking time to savour. Using their delicious Blanco, Hacien Pineapple Tequila Blanco is infused with sweet, aromatic pineapple for an easy-drinking, smooth and naturally flavoured Tequila. Save £14 Now.

El Sueño Watermelon Tequila Liqueur blends fresh, fruity bursts of watermelon with the crisp Tequila base of El Sueño Silver. Top it up with soda water and you have yourself a refreshing spritz! At 25% ABV, El Sueño Watermelon is a great example of a good quality ‘Mixto’ Tequila at an affordable price. Save £5.50 Now.

Low ABV Aperitivo Hour

Favourited classics of avid aperitivo drinkers often appear to be booze-forward, such as the Negroni, the Milano Torino, and the Boulevardier. These are cornerstones of Aperitivo Hour, with predominant Italian Bitters and Sweet Vermouth dominating the serve.

So how do we lower the ABV?

Aperitifs, traditional Bitters and Amaros, French Tonic Wines and Vermouth work beautifully with effervescent pairings. We have a whole Beginner’s Guide to Aperitifs, for those interested in diving deeper into what the aperitif category has to offer…

For now, we are going to be looking at our favourite soda water + aperitivo pairings for a lower ABV and lighter serve.

Swap out your Negroni for the Americano. Our Americano Recipe Blog ventures into the heart of Italy’s iconic pre-dinner cocktails for a tantalisingly refreshing serve. For our go-to recipe, you’ll need:

35ml Campari and 35ml Cocchi di Torino Vermouth, topped with a splash of soda water.

Or bring down the ABV even more by leaving out your favourite Sweet Vermouth for a Campari and Soda instead. Campari is a booze hound’s cabinet necessity and it’s a versatile bittersweet aperitif if you’re looking for a lower-alcohol option to fit into the spirit + mixer formula.

Look to France for a defined taste of the Mediterranean. Ricard is a famed pastis with big notes of green anise, fennel, and liquorice root – there’s pungent anise on the nose with a ‘rooty’ sweetness. The bittersweet finish is herbal and slightly menthol like, delicious when diluted with very cold water.

If 45% ABV is still a bit much, consider a Suze and Soda! Suze Liqueur is renowned for its aromatic complexity and subtle balance of fresh gentian, soft citrus, and herbal extracts. This is a fantastic digestif. At 20% ABV, Suze has a bittersweet taste similar to Ricola sweets. Brilliant when served long with lots of ice, and don’t shy away from the use of tonic water if that’s more your style too!

If you’re looking for a more modern serve, Lillet Rosé is ideal for those seeking to enjoy a full flavoured, low ABV drink, topped with tonic. Lillet is actually considered a Tonic Wine, as there’s no wormwood, with light aromas of berries, orange blossom and grapefruit, this is an alluring and lively accompaniment, ready for dilution.

And finally, if you’re a masterful Martini maker wanting to take a break from high ABV spirit-forward cocktails, pairing a Dry Vermouth like Noilly Prat Original Dry with tonic or soda and frozen grapes, is a tasty and lighter alternative. At 18% ABV, Noilly Prat Original is just as delicious as an aperitif on the rocks too. (Dry January can mean Dry Vermouth, right?).

And there you have it! Get your tall glasses in the freezer and the ice at the ready – if you’re planning an exciting highball hiatus in the ‘sober curious’ months left to come, we hope we have given you plenty of lower-abv serves to choose from!