Proposed by: David
Reviewed by: Jonathan
As far as I’m concerned, the southern intonation of “sweet tea” can’t be rendered phonetically in prose, as it contains bent notes divergent from most American English. Though sweet tea as a concept entered my consciousness long ago, my clearest memory of hearing the term was during college at Wake Forest, late one semester when I was flush with unspent meal credit. That was the only time I’d think of visiting the Magnolia Room, the most upscale of all the dining options, complete with white tablecloths, baskets of rolls before dinner, and student servers. I remember scheming to make our server, a friendly classmate from Charlotte, use the words “sweet tea” over and over just to hear them spoken properly.
I like to hear Jonathan’s wife Debbie say the words as well—she knows, as a true North Carolinian, how they ought to be delivered. Maybe sweet tea isn’t exclusively a North Carolina thing, but it receives proper reverence there, and rightly so. It’s can’t be good for you, but, if you have a sweet tooth as I do, it’s a treat.
All of which is prefatory to saying this week’s cocktail, Libertea, feels like a variety of sweet tea to me… only alcoholic. I found the recipe online and thought it’d be appropriate for July 4th celebrations. Despite the name, I seriously doubt Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, or Patrick Henry invented this cocktail. It must have originated with the folks who make Wild Turkey, as it involves both the bourbon and a cordial called American Honey made by the same company. Add lemonade and black tea to the liquor, and you have an Arnold Palmer—who also went to Wake Forest, by the way—only with a kick.
The recipes, in fact, demand you make the stuff in quantity. I couldn’t find any versions that whittled the contents down to a single serving. So, like Jonathan, I split it between a mint and basil version. While it looks intimidating to pour in alcohol measured in fractions of a cup, the potent part of the recipe is proportionally small—which is to say, you can drink a lot before you realize it’s creeping up on you… sort of the way your weight creeps up on you if you subsist on sweet tea. I’ll leave the full review to Jonathan but will offer at least this warning—yes, the bourbon is in there, wait.
And I’ll tell you the recipe, of course:
- 4 cups water
- 4 cups lemonade
- 4 black tea bags
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves (I made half a batch with basil and half with mint)
- 1/2 cup bourbon
- 1 1/2 cups American Honey Liqueur
Preparation: In a large saucepan, boil 2 cups water.Remove from heat; add 4 teabags of black tea. Steep 8 minutes; discard teabags. Add 2 cups cold water and lemonade; transfer to pitcher and chill. Add fresh basil (or mint) leaves. Using a wooden spoon, crush leaves until fragrant. Stir in bourbon and American Honey.
And here’s Jonathan’s Review:
David has felt that he has been on the schneid in his cocktail choices. A quick review of the last couple of months shows that it is not true, although I might suggest that he avoid suggesting oddly colored drinks. I also don’t believe that tasty or even enjoyable mixes were ever part of our mission. It makes perfect sense that we would hope to suggest and try something we could enjoy, but our mission was to explore”… exotic, classic and forgotten mixed drinks.” Whether he was on the schneid or not doesn’t matter this week, as this is one of the best cocktails that we have tried.
The recipe has a lot of steps like many of the ones we have sampled recently. This one began, as I am sure David has described, by making tea, adding lemonade and infusing with basil. We both decided, following David’s suggestion in his introduction, to try infusing half with basil and half with mint. I gave up on the idea of working out proportions and decided instead to make the full batch (split for the infusions) since there are usually others who want to taste the week’s creation and it probably keeps pretty well. Plus there is always the hope that our follower, Jerry, might show up in town with cup in hand.
The highlight of the Libertea is the perfect amount of enough sweetness to the drink. Between the lemonade and the American Honey, the sweet combines perfectly with the bourbon, basil (or mint), and black tea spices. I am inclined towards iced tea as a beverage anyway, and often mix it half sweet and half unsweet, so this is the alcoholic version of that. Add the lemonade and I have to wonder why someone hasn’t worked out how to make this a bar staple. Since we tried two versions, it should be noted that the basil version, to me, was the better of the two.
Jonathan’s take: Tea, lemonade, bourbon and spice mixed to perfection.
David’s take: Nostalgic and intoxicating… perfect.
Next week (proposed by Jonathan):
I wanted to go back to rum as the base. There are quite a few exotic and tropical alternatives, but I decided to go with another classic of the tropical set – the Mai Tai. Some recipes require two mixes, grenadine and orgeat, which need to be made in advance but the version I am leaning towards skips the grenadine. All recipes require small paper parasols.