Because it’s the start of the Memorial Day Weekend, traditionally a big time for picnics and barbecues, we’re going to keep it extra simple this week. So simple a “recipe” in the usual sense isn’t even required.
Highballs are not any one particular drink but any cocktail comprised of an alcoholic base and a much larger proportion of some non-alcoholic beverage. Ordinarily, we wouldn’t bother with a lot of highballs because there’s not much point in giving you a recipe for, say, rum and coke or a 7 and 7 (just in case you’re extremely new to booze, that’s 7-Up and Seagram’s 7 whiskey). Your basic highball is 1-2 ounces of booze, a mixer to taste — about five or six ounces, maybe, and some ice. You can throw in a garnish of your preference, like a lime or lemon wedge, if you want to get fancy.
We’re making an exception this weekend because highballs really are the easiest cocktails to make if you’re going to be outdoors and away from the conveniences of home. Yes, it’s possible to drag your cocktail shaker, measuring shot glass, plenty of ice cubes (which you’ll be quickly tossing), assorted bitters, garnishes, and — most tricky of all– the appropriate type of glasses with you on a picnic. However, we’ve tried it and had fun with it, but it was no picnic. Yes, you can use plastic champagne glasses in place of martini glasses and it won’t be bad, but it’s still a lot of work, those plastic champagne glasses cost a few bucks, and they will never be the same as an actual chilled glass right out of your freezer.
Of course, cocktail snobs look a bit downward on many of the most popular highballs — you’ll never see James Bond ordering a Jack Daniels and Coke, but then again you’ll never see him gnoshing on a Hoffy’s or Hebrew National at a picnic, either. Nevertheless, there are many beverages in the highball family with a degree of nobility that Bond and even snootier folks have been known to favor. For starters, no one should look down on you for your Scotch or bourbon and soda. (Depending on liquor laws and enforcement in your community, however, police officers may feel otherwise.)
If you really want to kick it old-old-old school, try taking some ginger ale along with the usual cola and lemon lime sodas. Dry ginger ale (not too heavy on the ginger) was the mixer of choice during prohibition, when most liquor was not of high quality; it still works very nicely. Canada Dry and Canadian whiskey was our grandmother’s beverage of choice and we think the old lady kind of knew what she was doing. (We love heavier, more gingeriffic, ginger ales like Vernor’s and ginger beers, and they are frequent cocktail ingredients, but they might not be as reliable mixers in a simple picnic setting.)
Better yet, the immortal gin and tonic is one highball you can knock back with pride, and not just because it’s a favorite of English aristocracy, as seen on “Masterpiece Theater.” Even back when we were young and foolish and appreciated neither gin nor tonic water, somehow the combination of the two of them made one of the delightful warm weather alcoholic beverages we’d fall back on, and we still love them. An especially good version of this uses Hendrick’s Gin, a terrific mid-priced premium gin made in Scotland — most gins are strictly English — that uses a cucumber infusion. As for garnishes, the usual lime wedge will work just fine, but a slice of cucumber stolen from whoever’s making salad really kicks this drink to life. Vodka and tonic is obviously another popular choice here.
Screwdrivers — orange juice and vodka or gin — are impossible to mess up — unless you put in more than 1-2 ounces of booze, in which you case you probably don’t really care what it tastes like anyway. And while a gin or vodka and tonic won’t actually cure malaria with the tiny amount of quinine that it contains, we are fairly certain the vitamin C in the orange juice will be sufficient to ward off scurvy. Trust us, nothing can ruin a picnic faster than a bad case of scurvy.