Once upon a time, humans roamed the earth’s bars and restaurants guzzling down whatever fizzy water they found. At the press of a button, seltzer traveled magically from a tiny gun straight into your cocktail.
Today’s drinkers are more discerning. Sparkling water has blossomed into a multibillion-dollar business with more new brands popping up than there are mispronunciations of LaCroix. But not all are created equal, and even fewer are worthy of locking arms with your favorite Japanese whisky.
To crown the best bubbly, we put 11 popular sparklers through the highball challenge. We excluded flavored waters––they have no place in a highball––and mixed each at a ratio of two parts soda to one part whisky (Suntory Toki, in this case). Scores were on the basis of taste, carbonation and how well the drink held up over time. See where your favorite ranks.
11. Crystal Geyser ($20 for 18-oz 12-pack)
If you like your fizzy water with fizz, stop reading. One of the cheapest bottles of the bunch, this one fell asleep right out of the gate. The few bubbles that appeared were tired, tasteless and gone within seconds. It’s more geezer than geyser.
10. S. Pellegrino ($18 for 17-oz 24-pack)
We honestly expected more from the Italian bubbly behemoth, but nothing about it lived up to the reputation. The carbonation was weak and the mineral content basically nonexistent. After a minute or two, it drank like well scotch and water.
9. Voss ($28 for 11.15-oz 24-pack)
It’s a Shake Weight. No, it’s a rolling pin. No, it’s a tall Norwegian man stroking your hair beneath the strobe of a Las Vegas nightclub. Voss is a lot of things to a lot of people, but here’s what it’s not: a good highball soda. Insufficient carbonation, insufficient flavor. Cool bottle, though.
8. Perrier ($15 for 17-oz 24-pack)
There was a time when ordering a Perrier was the most French thing you could do besides smoke cigarettes and eat steak frites. Unfortunately, those days are gone, and all we’re left with is a middle-of-the-pack mixer. It’s a little fizzy, a little dry, but mostly forgettable.
7. LaCroix ($4 for 12-oz 8-pack)
Unflavored LaCroix is the Stephen Baldwin of sparkling beverages: It’s hard to stomach knowing there are better versions in the family. Though the carbonation held up fine, the water leveled a slight sweetness that dulled the whisky.
6. Mountain Valley ($30 for 750-mL 12-pack)
From the thick one-liter glass bottle to the Old West-looking label, everything about this bubbly screams winner. Carbonation was better than average, with tight medium-size bubbles. The biggest knock against it is its too-subtle minerality, which never quite finds its way to the whisky.
5. Q ($18 for 7.5-oz 12-pack)
The self-dubbed “spectacular club soda,” Q mixes a damn solid highball. It’s also a damn salty one. As much as we were impressed by its carbonation and long shelf life, the “dash of Himalayan salt” overpowered the honey flavors in the Toki.
4.Canada Dry ($4 for 12-oz 8-pack)
You know it more for its ginger ale, but Canada Dry also does a good club soda. Upside: It has tons of carbonation with large bubbles that shoot through the glass as if trying to escape a police raid. Downside: There’s a faint artificial flavor that leaves a chalky aftertaste on the roof of your mouth.
3. Schweppes ($4 for 12-oz 12-pack)
When the name of your fizzy water actually sounds like gas bubbles hissing in the glass, you know you’re doing something right. Schweppes is generously carbonated. It’s full of crisp, refreshing minerals that cradle, rather than crowd, the cocktail. And Schweppes costs a fraction of most boutique bubblies on the market.
2. Topo Chico ($3 for 12-oz bottle)
This Mexican brand is the darling of the cocktail world. And no wonder: It packs a huge mineral punch to go along with its absurdly large long-lasting bubbles. (Amazingly, the drink somehow retained its carbonation even after the ice melted.) Still, something about Topo was slightly out of step with the Toki. In the end, it was just a tiny bit too loud and salty for the delicate highball.
1. Fever-Tree ($36 for 6.8-oz 24-pack)
It feels like a splurgy celebrity seltzer, but it's one that delivers. It earned high marks across the board for flavor, fizz and finish. Even its self-described “Champagne bubbles” seemed legit. As were its subtle citrus and floral notes, which mingled nicely with the whisky, turning a simple two-ingredient cocktail into something bright, zesty and nuanced. Celebrities are celebrities for a reason.