A Highball is simply a spirit and carbonated mixer served over ice in a tall slim glass and Coca-Cola has been iconic in Highballs since before 1900.
“Bacardi rum and dark liquor has always been a natural mixture with Coca-Cola. Coca Cola is from Atlanta and being in the south you know whiskey and bourbon is something that is born here. So, it's always been something very Southern to mix darker beverages with Coca-Cola but we have a tray in our archive from 1908 advertising Coca-Cola Gin Rickies so very early on they were encouraging Coca-Cola to be mixed with gin. So, we think the Coca-Cola highball has gone through phases with different spirits.”
Justine Fletcher (Director of Heritage Communications, The Coca-Cola Company)
The 1908 branded trays Justine refers to are infamous and were part of unauthorised advertising by the Western Coca-Cola Bottling Company. They feature a bare-breasted woman holding a Coca-Cola bottle with surrounding text advertising “Coca-Cola Highballs” and “Coca-Cola Gin Rickies” along with the slogan "Wherever Ginger Ale, Seltzer or Soda is Good. Coca-Cola is Better - Try It."
1908 Coca-Cola topless girl tray image from CocaColaTrays.com
In late 1898 Cola-Cola sent a salesman to Havana, Cuba. Not just any salesman but Warren Candler, the brother of Asa Candler who owned Coca-Cola at the time. This resulted in the creation of perhaps the best known of all Highballs, the Cuba Libre. We cover the story in depth on our Cuba Libre page but Justine neatly sums it up.
“When Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders came down there during the Spanish American War many of them were familiar with Coca-Cola. They knew it was available and so the story goes that they mixed local rum with Coca-Cola and came up with the Cuba Libre. The Andrew Sisters’ 1945 song, Rum & Coca-Cola ended up being the second largest grossing song of the 1940s. So it really speaks to how iconic the drink is and how people think it’s a natural fit that coke and rum go very well together.”
As Justine also pointed out, “Jimi Hendrix and others were often photographed with Coke cans next to them during concerts. I’d imagine they may have had something besides Coca-Cola in their cans. In one episode of Mad Men where Don Draper was in trouble and wasn't supposed to be drinking in the office, he emptied what Coke was left and took a bottle of vodka and poured it in the Coke can.”
The spirit may have varied according to fashion, but Coca-Cola has remained a constant over the past dozen decades.