Bartender’s Best

By Charlie Wohlrab

The “Highball” is a classic, easy to make, tasty drink with many variations. The name is derived from the glass. Apparently, in the late 1800’s, bartenders referred to glasses as “balls” and the tall glass was a “Highball.”  There is sparse documentation regarding alcoholic beverage consumption and what there is, is often conflicting.  I usually go to the most logical.  There are several variations of the “Highball,” but the  tall glass is a constant.  Actually, a Rum and Coke, a Scotch and Soda and a Rye and Ginger are all “Highballs.” Notice I did not include Screwdrivers and Bloody Marys on the list of “Highballs,” as these are made with a fruit juice and are, therefore, more historically “Punches.”

The Rye and Ginger is a traditional cocktail that I wanted to try after my aunt ordered one at my daughter’s wedding. My Aunt was elderly and her request spoke of the history and popularity of this cocktail.

A word about Rye Whiskey. I like to use Old Overholt. This whisky has an interesting Pennsylvania history and had a role in the HBO series, Broadwalk Empire.  Old Overholt was around during Prohibition, and Andrew Mellon, Secretary of Treasury and part owner at the time, was able to grant the distillery a “Medicinal License.”  It is now distilled by Jim Beam in Kentucky, theoretically, according to the original recipe.

Rye and Ginger

• 1 and ½ ounce Rye Whiskey
Ginger Ale

When I make a Rye and Ginger, I have a pair of old eight-ounce tall glasses that I like to use. I fill the glass with ice, add the Rye Whiskey and top with Ginger Ale. Could anything be easier? However, due to the differences in Ginger Ale and Rye Whiskey, this can alter the taste slightly. My suggestion is to pick one of each Rye Whiskey you like. As long as you have the Rye Whisky, have a taste of it “neat”(in a glass with no ice), so you know what it tastes like. The same with the Ginger Ale. Since there are subtle difference, try different brands in order to get the ones you prefer

To make this a Presbyterian Rye and Ginger, substitute equal parts of Ginger Ale and Club Soda or Seltzer for the Ginger Ale. Again, use either Club Soda or Seltzer. It’s your choice or what you have on hand. However, a true Presbyterian Cocktail will use Scotch as the whiskey. Here’s a drinking history tidbit: The name “Presbyterian Cocktail” was given is because Scotch was the liquor of choice and the Presbyterian Church began in Scotland. But as I mentioned before, alcoholic beverage history is often sparse e so this fact just might be based on conjecture.

A slightly different Rye and Ginger is made with Rye and Stones Ginger Wine. I like Stones Original Ginger.  This is a ginger flavored currant wine which dates back to 1740s England.  The bottle suggests one drink it over ice with a slice of orange. But if this is too spicy, a splash of club soda or seltzer will mellow it out.  For a slightly different Rye and Ginger, I use the following:

• 1 and ½ ounce Rye Whiskey
• ½ ounce Stones Original Ginger

Fill a rocks glass with ice, add the Rye whiskey and top with the “Stones.” Give a gentle stir and it is ready. Again, if it is too spicy, a splash of club soda will mellow it. To dress it up a bit, I might add three cherries on a spear. This takes the Rye and Ginger from “ Highball” to a mixed alcohol cocktail much like the Manhattan and Martini.

Happy Holidays!

Charlie Wohlrab is a mixologist whose motto, “Drinking. . .more than a hobby” has been topmost in his mind since he first started tending bar while getting his Pharmacy degree. Now retired, when he’s not restoring his older home in New Jersey, he’s made it his goal to elevate the experience of having a daily cocktail from something mundane to something more exciting. He is now Harrisburg Magazine’s official bartender in residence.

My recipes are like my opinions,” says Wohlrab. “They continue to be refined as I try new products and work with old standbys.” Currently working on a book about cocktails, Wolhrab welcomes comments from his readers. He can be contacted at