The Magic Highball Formula: How to Memorize One Recipe, and Make Dozens of Drinks

 They say if you learn just three chords, you can play a million songs… well, if you can learn this one formula, you can make a million highball cocktails.

simple Highball recipe

And? They're right. Any musician can tell you the I-IV-V permeates the majority of popular music, and knowing that progression is the trick for picking up an instrument and playing along with a song you've never heard before.

The same is true for the class of mixed drinks called a highball. Many of these classic combos are just known by the name of the ingredients – gin and tonic, rum and Coke, and the like. They're a huge hit at get-togethers and parties, because they can be easily built without any special tools barware (i.e. no shaking), and folks can stick with the same spirit and change up the mixer for a little variety throughout the evening.

And the cool part? Most of these have the same recipe, the same ratio of ingredients. So much that most modern cocktail books don't even include them in the listings.

Next week, we'll be sharing ten must-remember highball recipes that every guy should know, but to get started, just memorize this golden standard:

The 4:1.5 Highball Cocktail Recipe

The standard highball formula is the starting point for all of those “______ and ______” drinks:

  • 4 oz of mixer
  • 1.5 oz of spirits

For less experienced drinkers you can go with just one, or for folks who ask for it, a full two. But, this is the golden ratio for many starter highballs, and allows you to experience both the character of the spirit and the flavor of the mixer fully.

created at: 02/14/2013

Learn it: So, here's what I recommend: get out a measuring cup or a jigger, or a shot glass, cause fun fact: a shot glass = 1.5 oz. See? It's a serving. Pour in 1.5 ounces of a spirit (or you can practice with water) into an 8 oz rocks or old fashioned glass (those juice glasses that came with your set are likely 8 oz), and see what it looks like in the glass. Note how long it takes to pour, and how high it comes up the sides of the glass.

Then, pour it back, and try it again. Test yourself. Pour from the bottle, and stop when you think you're at 1.5 oz, and then measure it. Repeat until you've nailed it. (Get some of those spouts if you like. They're fun). If you spend five minutes on this for only one day, you'll have mastered it for life. It's a visual you won't forget. Then, just apply to the specific drink.

created at: 02/14/2013

Step One: Pour 1.5 oz (a jigger, a shot) into an 8 oz rocks glass.

Step Two: Fill the glass with standard ice cubes, and swirl the glass to make sure they'll stay in.

Step Three: Then, fill the glass with your mixer of choice. You can measure this if you want – four ounces is a half cup – but 95% percent of the time, with the ice and spirits, you'll get exactly the right amount. Amazing, huh? 

created at: 02/14/2013

Note: There is a speciality piece of glassware called the highball glass, and it's around 10 oz. It's not the same as a standard “tall” or Collins glass, but frankly, I don't have any and I suspect you don't either. So, do procure some if you can, but building the drink in an 8 oz. glass and not needing to measure works for me.

Then, use the magic formula to make all kinds of highballs. Here are some classic combos to start with:

  • Gin and tonic [garnish: lime] 
  • Whiskey and Coke/Jack and Coke
  • Seven and Seven (whiskey and lemon-lime soda)
  • Vodka tonic [garnish: lemon]
  • Whiskey and ginger ale [my favorite, pictured]

And…as they say, the list goes on. Go and experiment, and tell us what highballs you like best!

For more on highball cocktail recipes, check out our latest free download, complete with recipes: 10 Highball Recipes Every Man Should Know