The History of the Ginger Highball Cocktail

This article is part of a cocktail history series, sponsored by Johnnie Walker. Discover more about classic Scotch cocktails here!

Whether you call it a Johnnie and Ginger, Whisky Buck, or a Mamie Taylor, a Ginger Highball is sweet and snappy and sure to cure the frustrations of a long day. It’s a simple recipe: One shot of whisky and one long pour of ginger ale. Feel free to add a squeeze of citrus or a twist for a little zing, but for the ultimate Ginger Highball, there’s one thing that should always be present: Scotch whisky.

There’s just something about the big flavors of Scotch — vanilla, spice, and malt — that meld so effortlessly with the sweet and fiery notes of ginger ale. Blended whiskies, like those from Johnnie Walker, combine various types of malt and grain whiskies to create a smooth, super-versatile beverage, making it ideal for a Highball. With the plethora of craft ginger ales available these days, each of which brings different levels of ginger, sugar, and citrus, there are unlimited renditions of this simple drink to be made.

It’s this easygoing, do-what-you-will attitude of the drink that has made it so popular for over a century. Soda brings a refreshing fizz and the ice dilutes the liquor just enough to make it easy to sip over a longer period of time.

As with many cocktails, the history of the Highball is nebulous. By definition, it’s a drink, more mixer than spirit, that’s served in a tall glass. The recipe first appeared in an American cocktail book, “The Mixicologist” by C.F. Lawlor, in 1895, but others have laid claim to making the drink first even earlier, including a Boston bar and an English actor. One story claims that the name “Highball” is a nod to a steam railroad term: When the train was ready to go, the conductor would give the horn two short pulls and one long one, echoing the recipe for the drink.

One thing we know for sure: The Highball started out as a Scotch drink. It was first crafted with plain soda, but somewhere along the line, someone swapped in ginger ale for the soda and a Ginger Highball was born. Ginger adds a lot of oomph to the drink so it’s no surprise that bartenders opted for ginger ale or even ginger beer in place of the original plain soda. Whereas soda water highlights the flavor of the Scotch, the intermingling of the smooth, smokiness of Scotch with the sweet and spicy notes of ginger ales results in an entirely different experience.

Considering it’s made with only two ingredients, the combination of whisky and ginger has inspired numerous iterations over the years. A Whisky Mule adds lime juice and swaps ginger beer for ginger ale; the Mamie Taylor, named for the famous opera singer, includes blended Scotch, lime juice, and ginger ale; and the Whisky Buck is a combination of Scotch, ginger beer, simple syrup, and a lime wedge.

There’s plenty of beauty in keeping it simple, though.


  • 1.5 ounces Johnnie Walker Black Label
  • 4.5 ounces ginger ale
  • Lime wedge


  1. Pack a Highball glass with ice.
  2. Pour in Johnnie Walker Black Label.
  3. Fill to the top with ginger ale.
  4. Garnish with a lime wedge.

This article is sponsored by Johnnie Walker. Keep walking.