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Cocktail Trends

The Resurgent Long Island Iced Tea

May 22, 2012 By: Robert Plotkin


There’s nothing dated or out of style about the classic cocktails of the 20th century. These drinks have timeless themes and rely on formulations that are every bit as relevant today as they were when first conceived. If one learns to appreciate these basic relationships, then there’s no limit on what they can create behind the bar. One of the mega-popular drinks of the 20th century is making a fast and Long Islandfurious comeback: the Long Island Iced Tea.

On a time/space continuum, the Long Island Iced Tea falls somewhere between the Harvey Wallbanger and Silk Panties. The tall, sublime concoction originated in the late 1970s at the Oak Beach Inn in Babylon, Long Island, N.Y. The drink’s construction is so unique that its creator — bartender Robert Bott — should be knighted. It takes a peculiarly bent mind to even contemplate combining four light liquors in one glass, no less to make the combination work so well.

In addition to having one of the longest drink names in the business, the Long Island Iced Tea is an inexplicably brilliant creation. Anyone who tells you that they’ve fathomed why the drink tastes like iced tea is, well, lying. The drink is concocted with half an ounce of gin, vodka, light rum, tequila and triple sec, two ounces of sweet ‘n’ sour and roughly the same amount of cola. The ingredients are shaken, which thoroughly mixes the ingredients and dissipates the carbonation from the cola. The drink is served in a tall iced glass with a lemon wedge garnish.

When made properly, the Long Island Iced Tea should taste nearly identical to its brewed, alcohol-free counterpart, with one, not so minor exception: It packs a bona fide wallop. The drink in all of its guises is a tailor-made heat buster, a perfect elixir for the dog days of summer. One note of caution: These drinks are potent. Their effect is markedly increased in the summer heat with the sun pounding down. Long Island Iced Teas and UV rays — they’re great when taken in moderation.

Potency notwithstanding, the Long Island Iced Tea is one of the great mixed drinks to emerge from the 20th century. The libation has given flight to a score of creative variations and remains enormously popular. Following are the best-kept secrets behind America’s greatest Long Island Iced Teas:

Spirited formulations. Because of the large number of ingredients used, many a bar serves its guests Long Islands prepared with inexpensive brands of liquor. While it might make sense from a cost standpoint, it’s a mistake from a mixology perspective. As stated, no one really understands why the recipe works, no less works well. Clearly keeping all of the liquor in balance is crucial. The best course of action therefore is to make the drink with quality brands and eliminate the chances of an inferior product disturbing the drink’s inner workings.

There are always an adventurous few who don’t except boundaries, or the status quo. In their pursuit for the perfect Long Island, an impressive number of creation variations have slipped into the mainstream that call for a different blend of spirits. For example, Hard Rock Cafe popularized a spin-off called the Manhattan Iced Tea. It’s concocted with gin, vodka, light rum, cola and a float of bourbon. Another is the Havana Iced Tea, which features equal parts of light and gold rums, brandy and triple sec.

Then there’s the unlimited potential of devising a Long Island with no other types of liquor than flavored rums and flavored vodkas. The possibilities are staggering.

Liqueur essentials. While its unusual assortment of spirits tends to grab most of the attention, let’s not lose sight of the role triple sec has played in the drink’s phenomenal success. The liqueur adds body, flavor and sweetness, all things that contribute to the overall effect.

The admonition about only using quality brands in Long Islands also holds true for the triple sec. That being said, there is no finer Curaçao liqueur than Cointreau. Not surprisingly, the most immediate improvement people can make to their Long Islands is to scratch triple sec, reach for the top shelf and make the drink with the good stuff.

A variation on the theme is to craft specialty Long Islands with Grand Marnier or Gran Gala as the modifier. They bring a great deal of character to the equation, namely a vibrant palate of orange and brandy flavors. Blue Curaçao makes an excellent substitute for the triple sec as well.

Another lesson learned along the way is that Long Islands taste great modified with liqueurs. Popular examples include the Green Tea Iced Tea, which is made with an added float of Midori, the Italian Iced Tea is topped off with Disaronno Amaretto and Raspberry Iced Tea gets a float of Chambord. Each is thoroughly delicious and satisfying.

Modifying the mix. Long Islands are made with a base of sweetened lemon juice and cola. Change the composition of that base mix, and you’ll alter the flavor of the finished drink. For instance, if you use equal parts of cranberry juice and sweet ‘n’ sour, the drink is converted into the Long Beach Iced Tea. The Florida Iced Tea is made with the addition of orange juice; the Hawaiian Iced Tea is prepared with pineapple juice. The Bimini Iced Tea is made with Blue Curaçao, orange juice and pineapple juice, while the Californian Iced Tea is made with all premium spirits and grapefruit juice.

As one might expect, there are several creative variations that call for iced tea in their recipes. Preparing the drink using equal parts of sweet ‘n’ sour and iced tea is called the Plantation Iced Tea. Substitute citrus flavored vodka to make the Veranda Iced Tea.

The cola provides the drink with color and flavor, but several contemporary variations of the Long Island have replaced the cola with other types of mixers. Two such examples are the Miami Iced Tea, made with vodka, rum, tequila, peach schnapps and equal parts of cranberry juice and lemon-lime soda, and the Electric Iced Tea, a specialty at Hard Rock Cafe prepared with Smirnoff Vodka, Beefeater Gin, Bacardi Rum, Blue Curaçao and lemon-lime soda.

The last piece of advice about Long Islands is to use a quality sweet ‘n’ sour, or better yet, use fresh lemon juice and sweeten it with simple syrup. The natural presumption is that with all of the ingredients in the drink, one won’t be able to discern the quality of the base mix. Not so. Rely solely on quality products, and you won’t be disappointed in the results.


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