Weekend with Hemingway Part 22: Whisk(e)y/Scotch and Soda
Whether it is whiskey, whisky or scotch depends on where it is from and also where you are from. If it is whiskey with the “e” it is usually Irish or American in origin and/or style. Without the “e” it is Scottish. The use of the word “scotch” is commonly used around the English speaking world except in Scotland where it is always whisky. As I am Scottish I will be sticking to “whisky”.
Whisky and Soda was for many years the most popular “highball” drink in the bars of America. A highball is a drink served in a tall glass or Collins glass that contains a spirit and a larger proportion of a mixer, usually poured over ice.
In Esquire’s 1949 Handbook for Hosts, Dave Woodrich promotes the use of a tall glass – “preferably uncoloured, definitely sparklingly clean, admirably narrow-mouthed so soda will not collapse ahead of schedule” he also warns against stirring as it will flatten the bubbles, “spare the spoon and save the drink.”
These days you are more likely to have a Whisky and Soda in an Old Fashioned glass.
There is the usual mix of possible origins of the name. Patrick Gavin Duffy, famous pre-prohibition barman and author of The Official Mixing Guide (1934) claimed the highball was brought to the US by English actor E.J. Ratcliffe in 1894. The Adams House bar in Boston also claims to have mixed the first highball.
Mentioned more than any other drink in Hemingway’s writing. It appears in a dozen works compared to a single appearance of the Daiquiri. Hemingway never refers directly to bourbon but mentions several Scotch whiskies. However, in his writing he jumps between calling the drink a “Whiskey & Soda” and “Scotch & Soda” which implies he is sometimes referring to a bourbon and soda.
It is a Scotch & Perrier that artist, Thomas Hudson drinks in Island in the Stream. Following the death of his two youngest sons in a car accident in France, Thomas heads there by boat from New York. He has a “fifth” of Old Parr with him (fifth of a gallon = about 750ml) He asks the Steward for a bottle of Perrier. Although he had an absolute rule about “never drinking before he had done his work…” He knew in his sorrow he would not work for some time. While reading through a stack of magazines he thinks “how much better the Perrier was than anything else you could put through whisky.” (note he uses “whisky” without the “e”).
120ml Seltzer or sparkling water
Fill a glass, Highball or Old Fashioned, with ice, add whisky and sparkling water, gently stir and serve. Garnish with a wedge or peel of something citrus as an optional extra
What whisky you prefer is an important factor in ordering a whisky and soda. My favourite is The Glenlivet as it is very smooth but with enough kick to remind you that you are drinking whisky. Glenfiddich is also very good, with a slightly larger kick but not quite as smooth. The range of blended whiskies had greatly increased over the years with great improvements in flavour. If you are trying to recreate that classic cocktail taste I would recommend sticking to the classic blends like Chivas Regal or the various Johnny Walker labels.
However, if you want to follow Hemingway in drinking Old Parr you might have some difficulty getting it in some regions of the world. It has not been available in the UK or Europe since the 1980s but if you happen to live in Columbia, it is claimed to have over 50% of the whisky market. Made since 1909 and named after Britain’s oldest ever man Thomas Parr who apparently died aged 152 in 1635. He managed to have his portrait painted by Rubens and it is this image that is on the label.
Whisky and soda cocktail. Photographed by Brent Hofacker. Image via Shutterstock.