The History: The basic highball dates back to the late 1800s, and the term applies to a range of drinks containing a spirit and a nonalcoholic bubbly mixer. The more intricate highballs also use other ingredients (juices, liqueurs and more fanciful items). But the one thing that’s shared by all: They are approachable and refreshing, easygoing sippers.
The Update: The Nook (which celebrates its first anniversary in February), in West Seattle’s North Admiral neighborhood, has an air of eclectic mystery. Curtains on the front door, antique lights and glassware, an old radio on the bar all hark back to those early highball days.
But for the Seattle Grey, Indiana-born Nook owners and brothers Jimmy and Johnny Rolfe (Jimmy worked at Seattle’s Matador, Johnny at Chicago’s Alinea) wanted to use a spirit that wasn’t a big part of late 1800s bar menus: vodka. They feel the spirit is underutilized on today’s cocktail scene, so they decided to “help sophisticate vodka” by using it in creative drinks.
Here, they infuse it with Earl Grey tea, a black tea that traditionally uses oil from bergamot orange rind, which conveys lemony, light orange and floral flavors. That distinguished base is paired with Giffard Pamplemousse, a pink grapefruit liqueur with lovely tartness and a fresh fruit bouquet. Adding soda balances the drink and turns it into an effervescent treat that is already a favorite with the bar’s regulars.
The Twist: For the Seattle Grey, the brothers use a bucket glass, sometimes called a double rocks glass or double old fashioned glass, which has a capacity of between 11 and 14 ounces. This glass has a wider mouth than the traditional tall and slim highball glass, allowing the drink’s aromas to flow freely—the kind of sturdy scent Seattleites need at a time of year when the clouds have descended.
The Final Taste: The strata of citrus from the tea and the liqueur and the underlying vigor of the vodka are ideal for a drink whose name brings up memories of the many gray days we live through in the Pacific Northwest. But the liqueur’s sweetness and the soda’s cheery bubbling offset the long gray hours and remind us that sunshine isn’t ever too far away.
The Nook uses corn-based Tito’s vodka here, but you could substitute another grain-based vodka and keep it in the same vodka family.
1ounce Earl Grey–infused vodka
3/4ounce Giffard Pamplemousse liqueur
Chilled sparkling water
In a bucket glass, add the Earl Grey–infused vodka and the liqueur.
Fill the glass with ice and then top with sparkling water.
Give a quick stir and serve with two cocktail straws.
The cocktail: Seattle Grey; The Bar: The Nook; The Bartenders: Jimmy and Johnny Rolfe
Photo by Hayley Young.