The Long Island Ice Tea

LIITProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

There are two parts to the introduction to this week’s cocktail—Long Island Iced Tea. The first is the background on the drink and the inevitable varying accounts of its origin. There is also a second part about how I ended up proposing what could be considered a party punch because of its large proportion of liquor, and another version worth trying.

One would assume that the Long Island part of the name is the biggest hint to the origin of this cocktail. In fact, many accounts attribute the invention to a bar in Long Island and a bartender with the catchy name of Bob “Rosebud” Butt. That is far too simple a history, though, and other accounts suggest a different bartender (Chris Bendickson), different locations of the same bar (the Oak Beach Inn) and that the drink’s origin predates the Oak Beach Inn concoction.

My favorite story of this cocktail reveals a personal bias. I was born in Maryland, reared in south Texas and have spent my entire adult life in North Carolina. That clearly makes me a southerner and with that a lover of true (sweet) iced tea. The concept of the Long Island Iced Tea is that the odd mix of numerous liquors, citrus, sweetening agents and cola resembles, or even mimics, actual sweet tea. How then, can this drink have been invented in Long Island, New York where they clearly do not know or appreciate (yes, I know this statement may offend) sweet tea?

That brings us to the community of Long Island in the southern city of Kingsport, Tennessee. This story of Long Island Iced Tea obviously bases the name on that community and a resident affectionately referred to as Old Man Bishop. He is said to have first introduced this alcoholic tea in the 1920’s and his son, Ransom Bishop, perfected it in the 1940’s. There are suggestions that they might have distilled their own alcohol which makes me wonder both why the mix of so many different liquors, as opposed to simple moonshine, and why tequila is part of most recipes. Those inconsistencies aside, I like this story better simply because a drink that mimics sweet tea needs to have come from a place where they know and appreciate true sweet tea.

The recipe I started with was equal parts vodka, gin, triple sec, tequila and rum. Added to that was one part homemade sweet and sour mix (3 parts water, 3 parts sugar, 2 parts lemon and 2 parts lime) and 2 parts cola. The first batch was too gin dominant and strong so I changed to half parts gin and triple sec and increased the sweet and sour and cola amounts. Not only did it taste better, and more like tea, but it decreased the alcohol content.

the drinkersSo why a cocktail that falls into a category that includes such party stalwarts as PJ, rocket fuel and battleship punch? This weekend was an annual golf trip that now includes 24 to 28 golfers but began with a smaller group of friends from college. I asked the core group to vote on the cocktail and they suggested this one despite my plea for something golf related such as the Hole in One cocktail. While we ended up with the Long Island Iced Tea we were able to accomplish the second golf related goal with another version of this cocktail. Substituting Blue Curacao for the triple sec and sprite for the cola creates a drink that is named for the cry of a golfer as he launches a shot deep into the woods or the depths of a water hazard – Adios, Motherfucker!

It’s a real drink, I promise.

Here’s David’s Review:

The Long Island Ice Tea was notorious when I was a college student, and classmates spoke of it as a sneaky drink that tasted like punch and then hit with an even bigger inebriating punch. They described having two or three (or four—we are talking about college) when they should have had one. The story really focused the mayhem that ensued.

Maybe that warned me away. More likely I busied myself killing brain cells in other causes. In any case, I’m perhaps the only undergraduate of my era never to have had one. My first LIIT came this weekend, and I’m rather glad. It is delicious. It is lethal. Had I encountered it earlier, my grades might have suffered.

Though it tastes little like tea to me, contains no tea, and isn’t really even the right color for tea, the Long Island Ice Tea somehow manages to go down as easily. I didn’t taste any of the liquors, not even the gin, which, unlike Jonathan’s, didn’t assert itself, nor did I get the sort of coughing kick you’d expect from four-plus ounces of alcohol. I read somewhere that a Long Island Ice Tea boasts 22% alcohol, yet it tastes like sodee-pop.

Does that make it good, its disguised potency, innocent and diabolical all at once? As a collegian, I’m sure I’d have said “Hell yeah!” As a more mature, refined, and sophisticated appreciator of cocktails, I have to say “Hell yes.”

You’ll note I only remove the exclamation point and turn to less colloquial language.

What’s most deceiving in the Long Island Ice Tea is the subtle balance it achieves, propping tequila against gin and gin against rum and rum against lemon and triple sec. I chose a recipe that threw coke in at the end to achieve the proper tea color (though, in my photographs, it didn’t) and even cola disappeared in the mélange of flavors. In television dramas people talk about ensembles. If, in this blog’s past, we’ve praised drinks for their achieving something greater than the sum of their parts, this drink deserves credit.

Is the Long Island Ice Tea my new favorite? No. It’s more than I can usually handle. As a vacation drink or as a celebration of good fortune though, it’ll do. I’ll return to it, I’m sure, when the occasion calls for it.

David’s Take: I almost wish it weren’t so good.

Jonathan’s take: If I want a drink that tastes like sweet tea, I think I will stick with the real thing.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Okay, so maybe I’m crazy, but I’ve been eying that Chartreuse I see in the liquor store—how can you not be curious about a liqueur that gives rise to a color and not the other way around?—and I’ve been dying to buy some. This week, I’m gonna (and hope Jonathan can do the same… sorry, bro). My choice of cocktail is The Last Word, a combination of Chartreuse, Gin, Maraschino, and lime juice. Who knows what it will taste like, but at least it looks beautiful. Of course I said the same thing about The Aviation


The Tallulah

proposed by: Davidcok-whiskey-peanut

reviewed by: Jonathan


If you are from the south (and of a certain age), you might remember old men at the local gas station funneling salted peanuts through their fists into the neck of their coca colas. The idea was simple—to combine sweet with earthy and salty.

This recipe comes from a Birmingham, Alabama, gastropub called Ollie Irene. The drink is named after a co-owner’s aunt, apparently quite a bourbon lover.

I proposed it because—like most humans I guess—I like sugar and salt. But I especially like them together, and this cocktail gave me a chance to do that intriguing thing only old men seemed to be allowed to do.

The Tallulah combines bourbon with a sugary mixture of coke and an orgeat (OR-zjhot) of peanuts, sugar, vodka or brandy, and a teaspoon of orange blossom water.

1.75 oz. Jack Daniel’s
1 oz. peanut orgeat*

The most laborious portion of the recipe is creating the orgeat, which involves boiling unsalted peanuts in a simple syrup then allowing the mixture to sit. When you strain the peanuts from the liquid with cheese cloth, it’s a mess.

Peanut orgeat
makes 1 ¼ cups

2 cups roasted, unsalted peanuts
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ¼ cups water
1 tsp. orange flower water
1 oz. brandy or vodka

Pulverize peanuts in a food processor. Meanwhile, combine sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Allow mixture to boil for three minutes, then add peanuts. Lower heat, allowing mixture to simmer for several more minutes, then gradually increase the temperature. When mixture is about to boil, remove from heat, and cover.

Let mixture sit for at least six hours. Then strain it through cheesecloth, discarding peanuts. Add orange flower water and brandy or vodka. Keep for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.

The toughest ingredient to find is proportionally the smallest, the orange water. Jonathan found alternatives, but the description of orange water on Serious Eats intrigued me:

To the uninitiated, orange blossom water’s flavor is a surprise. It transports the clean brightness of orange groves to a field of wildflowers on a muggy day. The finish on the tongue is pleasantly bitter, much like chewing on orange peel. Okay, so it kind of smells like old lady perfume. But those blue-hairs are on to something. A wee dash of it gives food (and cocktails) an almost otherworldly quality.

Otherworldly? I don’t know. Blue hair? Absolutely… and now I have a lifetime supply.

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

The only time I tried mixing salty peanuts with Coke, despite a lifetime in the south, was during a college break summer spent as a septic tank inspector. My partner in the internship tried to convince me that RC Cola and peanuts was a delicacy. I’m not sure whether it was the situation or the oddity of the mix but it never caught on with me.

This drink achieves the peanut part with a peanut syrup that was an adventure to make. I had to substitute orange liqueur and an orange rind for the orange blossom water, but I think I got the concept right. The other challenge was filtering the peanut syrup which despite some sticky effort ended up a little chewy. The end result worked in the drink and would probably be tasty over ice cream which I will certainly test since I have some left.

The Tallulah itself was excellent even without a nostalgic tug. I fact, it made me wonder if bourbon wouldn’t have made septic tank inspection a little more fun. I did end up adding more Coke and salted peanut garnish after drinking half of it and thought it was better that way.

The last thing I will add is that I am always looking for food and drink combos. This drink seemed to be most appropriately combined with something classic so I had it with barbecue chicken, or more accurately while I barbecued the chicken.

David’s verdict: I’d have another another year from now.

Jonathan’s verdict: The Tallulah was a nice change, but I prefer sweet mint to adulterate my bourbon over peanut syrup.

Next Week (proposed by Jonathan):
You may not be able to tell a book by its cover but a great cover can sure be an attraction. I kept coming across Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All by Brad Thomas Parsons while I was looking for something new to read. Each time I saw it the cover pulled me in, even though I had never had any interest in bitters (probably from the negative reaction to a really bitter Manhattan years ago). The book is a great compilation of history, instruction, recipes and how-to for those who want to make their own.
Next week, we’ll continue with the bourbon theme and try a Horse’s Neck, a drink made with bourbon, lemon, ginger ale, and Angostura bitters. You’ll need a channel knife.