Learning how to make the best Scotch and soda might sound unnecessary. After all, it’s just a combination of Scottish whisky, sparkling water and ice. In a glass. Mixing up a Scotch and soda should be as easy as falling off the proverbial log.
However, it turns out there are a number of considerations that go into making the ideal version of this drink, also known as the Scotch highball.
The History of the Scotch and Soda
Its precise origins are murky, but the combination of Scotch and soda was making the rounds in both Britain and the U.S. in the late 1800s. Cincinnati barman C.F. Lawlor includes a whiskey and soda drink called the Splificator in his pioneering 1895 book The Mixicologist, plus a “High Ball” cocktail that features brandy or whiskey and seltzer over ice.
More proof linking the Scotch and Soda to this era is a 1927 letter written by bartender and author Patrick Gavin Duffy, which was published in the New York Times. In it, Duffy states that he rarely served Scotch whisky at his café until a British actor, E.J. Ratcliffe, started asking for it. When Duffy got his hands on some Usher’s whisky, he started making Ratcliffe a drink with Scotch, club soda and a lump of ice around 1894. Word spread, and soon Duffy writes he was serving little else besides these Scotch highballs.
Cocktail historian David Wondrich, author of the cocktail guide Imbibe, shares that over time, the Scotch and soda was eclipsed by fancier drinks. That jibes with the experience of Alfie Spears, a former bar manager and single malt brand ambassador for Bacardi’s Scotch portfolio, which includes Aberfeldy and Craigellachie.