Simple Soda & Spirits

Perhaps you were thinking that the cocktails presented here in Happy Hour are too fussy. And perchance you wondered if there are drinks you could make that could astonish your tastebuds without inducing exhaustion from the process. You do, after all, have lots to do until the end of the year--plan the Thanks-stealing menu, prepare the food, tidy up the home for the guests, do your gift shopping, etc, etc, etc.

Well sometimes those same thoughts cross my mind as well. To that end, I thought this week would be a great opportunity to share some drink recipes that pair wonderfully with your dearth of free time--drinks I created that are simple combos of a soda and a spirit. A couple of them are so simple that you could let your guests make their own while you do your thing in the kitchen, and a couple involve just a little more prep time (but still not much) if you find yourself up for it.

And you need not worry about measuring with too much precision either, as all the recipes call for the amount of spirits you find most suitable--for me about an ounce of liquor does it, as I like to keep them light and refreshing. Best of all you won't need any shakers or other paraphernalia other than something to stir with. Just remember to use quality sodas (no artificial flavors, colors, or corn syrup).

Simple Soda & Spirits

Grape & Grain (above left)
Rye whiskey (Old Overholt is a great inexpensive choice)
Grape soda (used Fizzy Lizzy)

Fill highball glass with ice and pour in the whiskey. Top with the soda and give a light stir.

It's really amazing how the rye and grape soda combine in this drink to produce the distinct flavor of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on rye bread. You really have to try it for yourself.

The Double Apple (above right)
Laird's Applejack
Apple soda (Fizzy Lizzy or Martinelli's sparkling cider works well)
Fee Brothers Rhubarb Bitters

Fill highball glass with ice and pour in the applejack. Add a dash of the bitters, top with soda, and lightly stir.

Simple Soda & Spirits

Caribbean Cherry (above right)
Anejo rum (El Dorado 15 Yr is magnificent here)
Cherry soda (used Sparkling Italian Cherry soda from Whole Foods' 365 brand)
Splash of lime juice

You know the drill by now. Rum to taste and soda to top. Don't forget the splash of fresh lime.

Although you can use a light rum, a quality aged rum like El Dorado 15 takes the drink into another stratosphere. Equally important is the soda you use--as with all the recipes here--as the flavor of real cherry juice is essential.

Improved Greyhound (above left)
Grapefruit soda (Fizzy Lizzy makes a great unsweetened soda)
Rosemary-honey syrup (recipe below)
Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters

Same routine as above with the addition of 1/2 ounce of rosemary-honey syrup and a dash of the bitters.

This is the fanciest that it gets, which is not really fancy at all. The rosemary-honey syrup recipe below takes about 15 minutes to make, as you'll see below. And you can batch everything except the soda ahead of time for easy service for guests.

Rosemary-honey syrup
1 1/4 cups water
1 cup honey
3-4 tablespoons dried rosemary

Put rosemary and water in small pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Strain out the rosemary and mix the honey with the water until completely diluted. Pour into a bottle and keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.

These drinks are all essentially highballs, which are basically drinks comprised of a spirit and a mixer (traditionally soda water). They are simple recipes with big rewards. They allow you to create intriguing flavor combinations in a short of amount of time, and will have your guests regarding you as a mixological wiz in the process.

Nowadays there are so many new, interesting flavors of artisinal sodas on the market that you can easily come up with a combination of your own. Besides, it's high time your soda received a serious upgrade, and trust me your guests and your tastebuds will both be thankful for it. Cheers!

*Got a cocktail question? Hit me on twitter @paystyle, email me at payman(at)lifesacocktail(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below!

**Paystyle was born in Tehran and grew up in Los Angeles (aka Tehrangeles) before moving to Brooklyn with his wife and co-pilot Vanessa Bahmani who provides the stunning photography of Pay's cocktail concoctions. Return every Wednesday for his weekly Happy Hour column.
Column: Happy Hour


  • Aldo – Thanks for that tip, I'll be in LA for the holidays and will definitely have to check out your recommendation!

    Paystyle on

  • Wow! Thanks for this. I'm always on the lookout for simply two or three ingredient drinks.

    If you're in the L.A. area Galco's Soda Pop Stop will have all of the delicious soda you need. YUM!

    aldo on

  • This was a fun, simple and tasty happy hour. Looking forward to finally making drinks for myself because as you know I generally don't like to use measurements when in the kitchen.

    Vanessa Bahmani on

  • Greyhounds are my stand-by drink…i can't wait to try your version of it. It looks great. Cool photos too.

    Errin on

  • you 2 are such a talented team! i want to make that Rosemary-honey syrup and just keep it on hand…

    erin on

  • Highballs are rocking! While they are usually not as refined and complex as cocktails [well I mean real cocktails like Manhattan, Martini or Sidecars – no fault cocktails like Mojito, Piña Colada or Tequila Sunrise…] – though usually much better than normal long drinks [Screwdriver, Cape Codder…].

    We have to slowly come to the point of homemade sodas… I think there is no way passing by…

    Anyway… I rather would go for a Gin – Greyhound; would work great… and I think your drinks could use some bitters… how could you forget these?

    Well… no I have to go back to my blog and pick up your idea… G-R-E-A-T

    opinionated alchemist on

  • Vanessa- My fave photo yet. It's so sharp!

    Pay- Any way you and V can make a stop up north? I was thinking the next Umamiventure would be this one whiskey distillery in Alameda, and I would love it if you would be the guest of honor.

    kayoko on

  • Kayoko – Thanks for the invite. We'd so love to come to the Umamiventure but this year's been a rough one, and I may not even make it out for the holidays to see my fam. But if there's any slight chance then for sure I'll jump on it!

    alchemist – I'm glad you enjoyed the post, and happy to have inspired a post of your own on highballs & homemade sodas—I enjoyed reading your post as well.

    Regarding your comment about the bitters, if you recall I did use bitters in two of the four highballs. However I chose not to use bitters in all of them b/c as I also explained in the post, my intention was to present a range of recipes that you could make during your holiday entertaining: some so easy that your guests can make themselves so that you'll be free to tend to your holiday kitchen duties; and some a bit more complex if you find yourself with some spare time.

    Lastly, I don't think bitters belong in every drink. For example, I sampled the Grape & Grain w/various different bitters and found it the best w/simply grape soda & rye, which paired together produced the most sublime reminiscence of a PB&J on rye.

    Paystyle on

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