The Simple Ingredient Difference Between A Whiskey Tonic And A Highball

If you love sipping whiskey but find liquor-on-the-rocks a little inaccessible, whiskey tonic might be just the beverage for you. Mixers are tailor-made to help dilute spirit-forward drinks down to accessible ABVs. That's often where the highball comes in. Highball cocktails (which combine carbonated nonalcoholic beverages with spirits) are workhorse two-parters — straightforward, reliable, predictable, and famously utilitarian. If you're in the highball game for the pizazz, you might be in the wrong game (or, you might be making Japanese whiskey highballs, which is a different sport entirely). You may reach for club soda when making a classic take on the cocktail. However, to best showcase a high-quality whiskey and let its flavor shine, simply skip the club soda and whip up a whiskey tonic.

Tonic is a bittersweet soda water known for its characteristic dryness. Despite the "water" part of its name, it contains a myriad of ingredients, including citric acid, high fructose corn syrup, other "natural flavors" (sometimes botanicals), and quinine. The latter ingredient, which comes from the bark of the Cinchona trees indigenous to Central America, lends a slight bitter tinge. Unlike club soda, tonic water doesn't contain mineral salts or sodium bicarbonate, resulting in a thinner body and more dimensional flavor. The sharpness, tang, citric bite, and dry, bitter backend complement the mellow, oaky, dark whiskey, whether your brand of choice leans smoky, peaty, or malty.

Swap the club soda for tonic water to open up the flavor

To assemble a knockout whiskey tonic, fill a highball glass with ice, pour in the whiskey, top it with the tonic water, and stir to combine. Then, slam on a few thick-sliced lemon or orange wedges to garnish and serve. One part of whiskey to two parts of tonic water is the golden ratio, but 2 ounces of whiskey to 4-6 ounces of tonic makes a good customizable jumping-off point. It's an elevated highball for the ages — although, even though you're skipping the traditional club soda, your bartender will probably still serve it to you in a highball glass. G&Ts typically come in a highball glass, too.

Whiskey tonics (aka leprechauns) are a great way to showcase Irish whiskey, but any high-quality, smooth whiskey will work here. In such a stripped-down drink, the quality of your ingredients matters; if you cut corners, it'll show. Small cans of chilled tonic water are the best fit for maintaining crisp carbonation that doesn't go flat before you can enjoy it. To amp up that flavor profile even further, you can add a few drops of Drambuie, angostura bitters, triple sec, or lemon juice into the mix with your whiskey tonic.