Rodeo Highball

Despite a short ingredient list, there are a few complexities to this drink.

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I was first introduced to the Rodeo Highball during my time in Chicago. I was working at a bar called In Fine Spirits and we ran this as a special for a few weeks. One of the owners “created” it with the simple combination of whiskey and ginger ale in mind. It is that simple – Canadian whiskey, ginger beer and a lemon twist. However, it has to be a specific Canadian whiskey: Pendleton. The story behind this cocktail’s name is also rather simple – there is a logo of a cowboy riding a bull on the Pendleton bottle. This cocktail is refreshing, but does pack a punch, just like riding a bull.

Despite a short ingredient list, there are a few complexities to this drink. Canadian whiskey is lighter than most; it is blended and also mixed with neutral or unaged spirits, as whiskey laws differ in Canada.

All whiskey (be it Scotch, bourbon, Canadian or Japanese) starts off as a clear liquid; anything coming straight from a still is clear liquid, with color added later. For whiskey, color comes from the charred barrel it sits in for many years. Clear whiskey goes into a 53-gallon barrel. Every year it ages, 3 to 5 percent of the volume evaporates through the pores of the wood. This evaporated whiskey is called the “angel’s share” – the whiskey the angels steal. In the U.S., bourbon makers cannot replace that lost whiskey with anything. In Canada, however, they can. That lost liquid is replaced with white whiskey or neutral-grain spirits. Such aged goodness is “watered” down with unaged spirits, making the end product lose a portion of the flavor the barrel offers. In addition, most Canadian whiskeys are simply younger (two to four years old) when they go into the bottle.

The light flavor is the redeeming quality for this drink. If you use older bourbon, a higher proof or barrel-strength whiskey, you get too much barrel, which hides the ginger and the lemon. The lightness of Canadian whiskey allows those barrel flavors to play with the ginger and lemon better than American whiskeys. There will still be a few dog days in September, and the ginger flavor welcomes fall.

Ginger Ale vs. Ginger Beer

Ginger ale has been around since at least the 1850s but didn’t gain popularity until the early 1900s, when Canadian John McLaughlin created Canada Dry. It is essentially a carbonated beverage (or soda) made with water and ginger or ginger syrup.

Ginger beer originated in the 1800s in England. Originally it contained a small percentage of alcohol, though today it’s usually nonalcoholic. It is brewed much like a beer. First, ginger is chopped, then combined with sugar and water and brought to a boil. Solids are strained to produce ginger “wort,” just like beer. Yeast can be added at this stage to allow for natural carbonation, or in some cases, the wort is added to a liter siphon and carbonated. Some varieties of ginger beer contain a small amount of alcohol, but usually less than 0.5 percent. Ginger beer also typically has a spicier flavor due to the brewing process.

Rodeo Highball

Serves | 1 |

  • ice
  • 2 oz Pendleton Canadian Whisky
  • 1 piece lemon peel
  • 4 oz ginger beer

| Preparation | Fill ¾ of a highball glass with ice. Pour in whiskey. Twist lemon peel into glass; when finished, add to glass. Top off with ginger beer. Stir to combine.

Matt is a bartender, author and industry historian.