Spritzes & Fizzes & Highballs, Oh, My!
Summer is the time of year to indulge one’s impulse for childlike whimsy, to embrace the inner lunatic, lover, and poet, to hope the sweet long days will never end, and the dreams of night continue back into day. If there isn’t one singular drink to feed the appetite of your summertime wiles, there is certainly a category of drink that has traditionally filled exactly that role.
While a stiff drink never goes out of style, in the summer heat it’s hard to beat something refreshing, something bubbly enough to tickle your tongue as well as it tickles your fancy. Enter our three summertime players: the Spritz, the Fizz, and the Highball. These drink categories cover your basic “long drink” genre (drink served in a tall glass over ice), although many spritzes and fizzes are served without any ice. Though often lumped together under just one of those names, there are important distinctions that define these fizzy, ever-summery libations.
A Spritz is basically a drink that involves a significant amount of sparkling wine, generally serving as the primary ingredient by volume. Originating in Italy, and especially popular in Venice and the surrounding area, the most classic version adds to the sparkling wine base a lightly bitter liqueur like Aperol, and a bit of club soda. One of the most beloved and enduring aperitivo cocktails, the format works especially well with any bitter liqueur in place of Aperol, but can also work with spirits, citrus, fruit liqueurs, anything that plays well with sparkling wine.
A cocktail so well engrained in the imagination of the lounging imbiber that the name alone is enough to whisk you away to a sun-drenched Mediterranean coast. Well, almost --- but it really has become synonymous with the word Spritz, and for a good reason. In Italy, this cocktail has become an indispensable part of a normal life, so much so that you can even purchase bottled version (not dissimilar from the older Campari and Soda). The light Aperol bitterness, and its lovely sweetness is just so playful with the the drier prosecco - we could drink these all the summer-long-days!
The 3-2-1 formula is easy to remember, and helps count down the seconds to the delightful fist sip:
3 oz Prosecco
2 oz Aperol
1 oz soda water
In a stemmed wine glass filled with cubed ice, combine all the ingredients. Stir gently to combine. Add a half-wheel of orange for garnish. Sip, recline!
Mai Tai Spritz
The Mai Tai Spritz, from Smuggler’s Cove’s Martin Cate, takes Trader Vic’s 1944 Tiki classic and gives it a continental twist. Dialing down the amount of rum in the original and adding 4 ounces of champagne, this is the perfect drink for the more formal, Hawaiian shirt and tie tiki party.
Shake all ingredients except sparkling wine with ice. Strain into highball glass over ice and add sparkling wine. Garnish with sprig of mint.
A Highball is a simple combination of spirit and any non-alcoholic carbonated beverage. Classic examples include the Scotch and Soda, Gin and Tonic, Cuba Libre, and in recent years, Japanese Highballs, which have taken the Scotch and Soda tradition and elevated it to a carefully studied craft. But whatever the combinations, they’re served in a tall glass with ice, they aren’t complicated, and if there is any citrus it’s usually as a garnish, rather than a true ingredient.
Our fearless leader Meredith is always good for an unexpected but solid cocktail recommendation, and this urbane Highball is no exception. Equal parts Rinomato, a very lightly bitter liqueur with strong orange flavors, and a quinquina, then topped off with tonic water, it’s a perfect aperitivo drink when the standard Aperol Spritz or Americano is just too expected.
Combine ingredients in an ice filled Highball glass. Garnish with orange slice.
Just as much a staple in Japan as the Aperol Spritz is in Italy - if not more so. Similarly, versions of this cocktail are a part of everyday life, and many would argue that meals are incomplete without it. You can also get them pre-canned in local convenience stores (Mizuwari is the word for this type of canned cocktail).
The recipe is dead simple - whiskey (usually a Japanese scotch-style variety) and soda water, over ice. So what makes it different from a simple scotch and soda? Well the answer lies in two things: the craft and the culture around it.
Options for Japanese Highballs abound. They range from quick "beer replacements" (Japan's drinking culture heavily revolves around food, so being able to enjoy a favorite whiskey in a long, refreshing way appeals to many) to carefully crafted versions meant to open up all the flavors of a complex dram.
In United States, whiskey lovers often balk at the thought of drowning their favorite whiskey in soda water - and I have to say that I was quite skeptical too. This seems to be the part where the craft really matters. Doing my best to follow the guidelines, i chilled an ounce of scotch in the freezer. Once it was ready i poured it over the ice in a tall glass - the incredibly cold whiskey doing very little melting of the ice here. Then I carefully poured 4 ounces of cold soda water, trying hard to disturb the ice as little as possible. I gave the concoction the lightest stir. All these steps are done just so to keep as much carbonation as possible in the drink. Lastly i garnished the drink with the smallest of lemon peels.
The very first sip proved this drink to be predictable and yet so much more. It is as if the bubbles carry the most aromatic parts of the whiskey with them - the drink is light and refreshing, but the whiskey flavor is not lost, and at times even highlighted. I frequently avoid whiskey on warmer days - but served in this way? I can't wait to have more!
1 oz Japanese Whiskey (Kaiyo - but a favorite, lighter, balanced whiskey will work)
4 oz Soda water
Chill whiskey in the freezer. Pour over a tall glass with ice. Carefully pour cold soda water down the side of the glass. Light stir. Optional lemon twist for garnish.
My new found love for the Whiskey Highball, and the playful, subtle flavors to be found within encouraged me to try a less traditional experiment: adding bitters. Many stronger bitters will probably dominate the subtle notes of the whiskey in a diluted drink like this - but I had a feeling that more delicate, floral ones might work quite well. Ume (Japanese plum) bitters from Miracle Mile turned out to be just the thing. They don't mask the whiskey flavor at all, but lend a sweeter, lightly fruity note to the finish of the cocktail. Divine.
Bitters + Highballs
2 oz Kaiyo Whiskey
3 oz soda water
4 dashes Miracle Mile Ume Bitters
Chill whiskey in the freezer. Pour over a tall glass with ice. Add the bitters. Carefully pour cold soda water down the side of the glass. Light stir. Optional lemon twist for garnish.
This is where the Fizz comes in, a drink of spirit, club soda, citrus, and often sweetener. Basically, a sour with a fizzy zip. With a format perfectly designed for refreshment after a long, hot day, it’s no surprise that fizzes have remained an evergreen summer drink since their inception long ago, with all kinds of combinations of different spirits, liqueurs, and spirits coming into play.
One of the classic fizzes, the Mojito gets unfairly maligned by some bartenders who complain about the trouble of having to muddle mint and it’s association with “basic” club goers. This is terribly unfortunate, as it is a fabulously refreshing drink, and one of Cuba’s great cultural exports. Though many similar drinks pre-date it, the Mojito as we know it came about at some point in early 20th century Havana, likely being mixed up primarily for thirsty Americans. Although the simpler Daiquiri gets more love from bartenders since the craft cocktail movement, go anywhere in Havana and you won’t be able to escape the call of the Mojito. It’s Cuba’s National Cocktail, and just about every restaurant claims to make “The best Mojito in the city”. There is a true pride and love for the drink in Cuba that it deserves to get Stateside, rather than the current denial of its charms that many bartenders are in. Until that day, start at home by mixing up some this summer, without shame.
For the rum, the traditional choice would be a drier, Spanish style rum, but a slightly fuller flavored blended Rum, like Plantation 3-Star, can work beautifully as well. In place of a basic simple syrup or sugar, a sugar cane syrup gives a much richer, bigger flavor as well, standing up to the Rum and Lime.
Gently muddle the mint in the bottom of Highball glass so that the oils are released without the leaves breaking up. Add ice and rest of ingredients. Stir together vigorously, top with club soda, and garnish with a fresh mint sprig.
Ramos Gin Fizz
In our last month's deep dive on all things gin, we still had to leave out quite a few favorite and staples. Luckily, this talk of fizzes gives us an excuse to right one particular wrong: talking about the institution that the Ramos Gin Fizz.
Invented by Henry C. Ramos in 1888 at the Imperial Cabinet Saloon, this drink was one of the first gin drinks to gain truly emblematic status. A true New Orleans classic, it even went by the name "New Orleans Fizz." Like the other NOLA classics, this one really does capture something about the jovial excesses of the city. Bars would have dedicated "shaker men" to keep up with the demand for this cocktail-milkshake cross over. Eventually, even special machines were designed just to save the arms of the exhausted bartenders.
It also has inspired quite a bit of debate.
Some stick to the traditionally called for 12 (!) minutes of shaking, while modern craft cocktailers will often argue that over-shaking actually harms the drink. The order of adding the ingredients is also often debated - I'll be honest, it's a bit above the pay-grade of this article. We'll stick to the basics, but encourage you, dear reader, to experiment and find the variation that's right for you.
2 oz Floral or Citrus Modern-style Gin (Greenhook, St. George Botanivore)
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/2 oz Lime Juice
1/2 oz Simple Syrup
3 dashes Orange Flower Water
1 oz Cream
1 Egg White
2 oz Soda Water
Add all the ingredients except for the soda water to a shaker with NO ICE and shake for a full minute ("dry shake") - this is the part that really creates the fluffy, merengue-like foam the cocktail is known for. Add ice and shake well until it is fully chilled. Strain into a tall glass and garnish with an orange wheel.