The Story Behind the Royal Highball Cocktail

Royal Highball Cocktail from Storied Sips

The Royal Highball Cocktail originated at the bar at The Ritz Hotel in Paris. © 2013 Poul Lange

Since 1898, The Ritz Hotel in Paris has played host to celebrities and royals, from Coco Chanel and Marcel Proust to Cole Porter and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The hotel’s bar has specialized in catering to the whims of a demanding clientele, including King Alfonso XII of Spain, who was a regular in the 1920s. Legend has it that the Royal Highball cocktail was developed by renowned Ritz barman Frank Meier in honor of King Alfonso at the opening of the Ritz bar, in 1921. The festive, yet strong sparkler is made from Cognac, Champagne, and muddled strawberries.

In acknowledgement of King Alfonso’s seemingly limitless appetite of Champagne and spirits, Meier would serve the cocktail in a large highball glass, nearly double the size of a typical Champagne flute. But, apparently, the king grew increasingly dedicated to his “more is more” motto over the years. Georges Scheuer, a manager at the Ritz bar for forty years, reminisced decades later that King Alfonso “was automatically served his special drink, a quart of Dom Pérignon Champagne liberally laced with Cognac, and a dozen strawberries,” upon entering the bar. Bemused regulars took to ordering the drink by an alternate name when His Highness was not present. They winkingly called it “King’s Death.”

Recipe: The Royal Highball

  • 1 ounce strawberry juice
  • 1 ounce Cognac
  • 6 ounces Champagne

Glass: highball or Champagne flute

To make strawberry juice: Wash and hull 1 pint ripe strawberries. Place strawberries into a blender or food processor with 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (add a few spoonfuls of water if needed for smoother blending). Strain juice into a clean measuring glass.

To make cocktail: Pour 1 ounce strawberry juice into ice-filled highball glass (or a chilled Champagne flute for a dressed-up version), then add Cognac and Champagne; stir gently.