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Highballs and other fizzy cocktails to temper the summer heat

From left, a Peach Fuzz Fizz, a Campari and Soda and Gin and Soda. (Photos by Rey Lopez for The Washington Post; food styling by Nicola Justine Davis for The Washington Post)

At my elbow right now is an icon of summer.

It’s not a beach or a bikini or a bottle of sunscreen.

It’s a gin and tonic, and like me, it’s sweating.

But it’s so much more tempting in its perspiration: The condensation on the tall glass ribboning into long clear rivulets that flash slivers of green lime wheel within. When it first came outdoors to join me on our front stoop, its frothy crown was still audibly hissing from the freshly poured tonic — up close, you could see the tiny bubbles launch themselves up, arching back into the drink, the effervescence lifting the aromatics of juniper, lime and bittersweet tonic toward my nose. The hummingbirds come to dip their long beaks into our feeders, occasionally giving me a side eye to ensure I’m not about to leap up and steal their ambrosia.

I’m not. I’m happy with mine. And it’s always this time of year I want this particular bubbly refresher — possibly the most famous of the fizzy family, a vast and bubbly crew that begins at the simple highballs (everything from the Campari and soda to the Dark and Stormy to the Cuba Libre to the Americano), and branches off into more elaborate fizz-and-booze delivery systems, including the rickey, the Collins and, of course, the frothy fizz.

If you take away nothing else from this story, remember that a highball is a spirit lengthened with a bubbly, nonalcoholic mixer, and that typically the mixer will be at least double the amount of spirit — a civilized, relatively low-ABV drink.

Make this cocktail: Cuba Libre

A highball is not just “a drink served in a tall glass.” I mention this because I have seen references to the Long Island Iced Tea (vodka, tequila, rum, gin and triple sec mixed with lemon and syrup, topped with a particle of Coke) as a highball. If you’re really limber, I suppose you could try to make that stretch?

But, if you fill a 12-ounce highball glass with a martini, you do not have a highball. You have a headache.

How to make Ranch Water, the tequila-lime cocktail that keeps so many Texans cool

But I digress. And to be fair, there’s mild masochism involved in our enjoyment of any carbonated drinks: Those bubbles trigger the same pain receptors as spicy foods. And yet much the same way, many of us love them — even outside of the cocktail context, I frequently take a late-afternoon slug of soda, partially for the tiny wake-up hit of caffeine, but mostly because I know that a long swallow of a carbonated drink will irritate my throat and make my eyes water, and suddenly, they’ll be less tired. Sure, it hurts, but it’s a real boost after hours of Zoom calls.

At this steamy time of year, there’s also the chill factor: Colder drinks hold carbonation better than warm ones, and drinks that are both carbonated and cold have been shown to be more thirst-quenching. Really, the last thing most people want when the outdoors is set on “BROIL” is a stiff shot of hard liquor, a diuretic at the time you least need one.

Make this cocktail: Campari and Soda

You’ll find no such aseasonal agonies here. For your summer needs, we’ve lined up a sort of bubbly evolution of seltzer drink options — from the highball to the fizz — ideal for multiple summer sips, and adaptable to your particular tastes and energy levels, each one just a step or an ingredient up from the last.

Just how involved do you want to get in decking out your drink this evening?

Start with gin and soda or seltzer for a basic gin highball. Juice and add a citrus half and you’ve evolved those ingredients into a rickey. Seems a little too tart for you? Add simple syrup, and you’ve got a Tom Collins, which at about 150-years-old holds its own as one of the most refreshing drinks on the planet. Want your bubbles in multiple forms — not just the palate-scrubbing carbonation of seltzer, but a soft foam topping like a meringue? The same ingredients shaken with egg white get you into gin fizz territory, and you can even take that version up a notch with a little boost of summer peach, getting you the Peach Fuzz Fizz — or go more baroque still to reach the Ramos Gin Fizz, the snowy white Everest of shaken fizzes.

It’s just like that old drawing of the evolution of man, only in drink form, and the Homo sapiens at the end of our chart happens to be wearing a frilly little peach-scented hat.

Gin and Soda

Scale and get nutritional information and a printer-friendly version of the recipe here.

This easy drink is a G&T substitute for those who might not like the bitter quinine in tonic water or who love the simple refreshing bubble of a Ranch Water. Pick a gin you love, use good fresh ice, and garnish it with a citrus wedge of your choice.

Total time: 5 mins

1 serving

  • Ice
  • 2 ounces gin
  • 4 ounces chilled club soda or seltzer
  • Citrus wedge or wheel, for garnish

Fill a highball glass with ice. Add the gin and top off with the club soda or seltzer. Give it a squeeze of citrus, then slide the citrus into the drink (to continue flavoring it as you sip) and serve.

From Spirits columnist M. Carrie Allan.

Tom Collins

Scale and get nutritional information and a printer-friendly version of the recipe here.

An enduring classic, perfect for summer sipping, the Tom Collins was — per drinks historian David Wondrich — an evolution of the gin punch made by bartender John Collin in London in the 1800s. Traditionally, this was made with Old Tom Gin (a sweeter style, and probably partly where its name is derived), but a good London dry works great. While some recipes call for first shaking all the ingredients except the soda water, it’s not necessary. Building it in the glass makes it easier still.

Make Ahead: The simple syrup should be made and chilled at least 1 hour in advance.

Total time: 5 mins

1 serving

  • Ice
  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1 ounce simple syrup
  • 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 2 to 3 ounces chilled club soda or seltzer, to top
  • Lemon wheel, for garnish

Fill a Collins glass with ice, then add the gin, syrup and lemon juice. Stir to combine thoroughly, about 15 seconds. Top with the club soda or seltzer, then gently stir again. Garnish with the lemon wheel and serve.

From Spirits columnist M. Carrie Allan.

Peach Fuzz Fizz Cocktail

The classic gin fizz is on the simpler end of the fizz class; the Peach Fuzz Fizz is a slightly more baroque approach. The most important technique for the fizz is a thorough shake — you want to really give it time to create the soft, creamy head the drink is known for. Traditionally, fizzes were served without ice in the glass, intended to be consumed quickly, but if you’re planning to sip it rather than slam it down, you may want a few cubes of ice in the glass to keep it better chilled.

Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe here.

Total time: 5 mins

Make Ahead: The simple syrup should be made and chilled at least 1 hour in advance.

Where to Buy: Peach nectar can be found at well-stocked supermarkets.

  • Ice
  • 1 1/2 ounces gin
  • 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • 1/2 ounce egg white (may be substituted with aquafaba)
  • 1/2 ounce peach liqueur
  • 1/2 ounce peach nectar
  • 2 dashes peach bitters (optional)
  • 2 to 3 ounces chilled club soda or seltzer to top

Chill a highball glass and add a few ice cubes, if you like (see headnote).

In a cocktail shaker, combine the gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white, peach liqueur, peach nectar and bitters, if using, and shake hard, until the liquid has thoroughly combined with the egg white and the mixture is pale and frothy, about 1 minute. Add 5 to 6 ice cubes to the shaker and shake again until well chilled. Double-strain into the highball glass. Stick a straw into the center of the froth and pour the seltzer along the straw into the glass, until the foamy head rises to, or just above, the rim of the glass. Serve with the straw.

VARIATION: To make the gin fizz, a simpler version of the above, in a cocktail shaker, combine the 1 1/2 ounces gin, 1 ounce fresh lemon juice, 1 ounce simple syrup and 1/2 ounce egg white or aquafaba and follow the method above, including the addition of ice and seltzer.

Gin Fizz adapted from Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide; Peach Fuzz Fizz from Spirits columnist M. Carrie Allan.