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Tips & tricks for mixing up the quickest cocktails in the comfort of your own home

We all wish we could have a private bartender who can whip up a cocktail or two for us when we get home at the end of a long workday. Even as a professional in the bar business, I can rarely muster up the energy to use my own complex recipes once I walk through my front door.

Enter the Highball. While most people may know this as just whisky and soda, a Highball can refer to any drink with a spirit base combined with a larger proportion of a non-alcoholic mixer. That’s right—two ingredients, no fancy tools needed. I think we can all spare the 30 seconds it takes to add ice to a glass and pour directly from two bottles!

While gin and tonics and rum and cokes both have their place and time, here are a few other combinations that are just as easy drinking, and a few tips that may sound basic, but will help elevate your at-home cocktail experience.

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Tips & Tricks

1. Chill everything

This includes your glass (preferably a Collins glass to hold carbonation better), the spirit, and the mixer. Having everything cold to begin with will slow the dilution of the drink, which happens the minute you pour room temperature liquids over the ice in your glass. Chilled ingredients also have a silkier, smoother mouthfeel.

2. Make nice ice

It is worth investing in silicon ice molds for larger pieces of ice, rather than using those from standard ice trays or from in-built ice makers in your freezer. Like chilling your glass and ingredients, this also helps slow the dilution of your drink. 

3. Use good ingredients

Just because you are topping up the spirit with a large pour of mixer, this is no excuse to skimp on the quality of your base. In fact, given that it is only a two-ingredient cocktail, both said ingredients should be of decent quality to create a resulting drink that is greater than the sum of its parts. Many sodas from the grocery store may be too sweet or overpowering for the combinations below, so I recommend always having club soda on hand to dial down the brix if needed.

4. Decide on your ratio

I personally prefer a 1:3 spirit (45-60ml) to mixer ratio, but this depends on the ingredients you are using, and more importantly, on your personal preferences. Start with a 1:2 pour, taste, and work your way up from there to find your magic number.

5. Stir gently

After adding your base spirit, followed by the mixer over ice, use a stirring spoon (if you have one) or a regular spoon to gently aggravate the drink up and down along the edge of the glass, followed by a few gentle stirs around it in order to better integrate the two ingredients.

6. Add a garnish

Well thought-out garnishes serve more purposes than just aesthetics. Herbs, citrus peels, and pieces of fruit can add an extra layer of flavour and aroma to your drink, giving it more complexity.

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Two-Ingredient Drinks Ideas

Dark Rum & Ginger Beer

Also known as a Dark & Stormy, this is about as straight forward as it gets. Garnish with a lime wedge for a zing of citrus and pretend you’re on a tropical island.

Tequila & Grapefruit Soda

The simplified version of a Paloma. Grapefruit and agave are a match made in heaven. Be sure to use only 100% pure agave tequila (it will say so on the bottle label) to ensure quality. Rim the glass by rubbing a citrus wedge along the glass edge and gently dipping it on a plate of kosher salt for a savoury touch that will also bring out different elements of the agave spirit.

Whisky & Soda

This does not only call for light Scotches or Japanese Whiskys. Feel free to experiment with your favourite drams from all over (bourbon, Canadian, Irish) for different flavour profiles. You can even step things up a notch by topping with a funky smoked soda water.

Vermouth & Tonic

A glug of fortified and aromatised wine with tonic or soda water makes for a perfect low ABV refresher. Do as Europeans do and enjoy this as an aperitif. You can use either sweet (rosso, bianco or rose all work!) or dry vermouths, each to different ends. This recipe generally calls for less mixer than the vermouth, but again, adjust to your individual taste. Garnish with a lemon peel for a citrus lift from the zest. Just a friendly reminder to keep any opened bottles of vermouth in the fridge to preserve their freshness!

Apple Brandy & Cider
An often overlooked category of spirit, apple brandy (the most popular subsect being Calvados from the Normandy region of France) is a delightfully fruity spirit with the additional dimension of barrel ageing. It pairs well with its brewed counterpart of the same base–apples, cider. Most supermarket brands are too sweet for this combination, so be sure to have some club soda handy to dilute.

Campari & Orange

This may be the odd one out as the mixer is not bubbly, but it is a personal favourite and would be a shame to leave out of the two-ingredient conversation. The key is fresh squeezed orange juice. To take it another step further, put the orange juice (on its own) in a blender and blitz it at high speed for a minute. This will give the resulting drink an extra fluffy texture that is just perfect for a weekend brunch. If you find Campari too bitter, feel free to sub in a bit of Aperol instead.

Amaro & Sparkling Lemonade
Amaros are herbal liqueurs that are typically bitter-sweet made with a variety of herbs and generally lower in ABV than spirits. They are most prevalent in Italy, but there are now producers from all around the world. Their flavour profiles vary greatly across the category, but I find they often pair well with a lemon soda of sorts. Try Fernet Hunter, founded in Hong Kong and produced in Austria, for a unique take on the bitter, and top with a yuzu soda for something a little different!

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