Its very name strikes fear into the hearts of men and women: Long Island Iced Tea. Five syllables that are shorthand for blackouts, poor decisions and even poorer drinks. It's the patron cocktail of lounge lizards, spring breakers and people who have had two already.
As cocktails like the martini and Irish coffee are rediscovered and re-imagined, the Long Island Iced Tea (henceforth referred to by its quite appropriate acronym, LIIT) has proven resistant to the efforts of mixologists. Is its combination of vodka, tequila, gin and rum scaring away purists? Is it too déclassé? Is it just kind of bad?
Few recognizable drinks besides the dreaded Chumbawumba ("I drink a whiskey drink, I drink a vodka drink," etc.) take such a bold approach to mixing liquors. And unlike those other drinks, the point of a LIIT is the booze itself, not the taste. Most recipes ask for at least an ounce of each liquor plus a bit of Triple Sec. The lemon juice and cola are usually little more than a fig leaf to make the drink taste like more than an accident at the McCormick factory.
That aside, there's no reason to feel ashamed ordering a LIIT, whether you're in Fort Lauderdale or a classy place like Drakes Haus in Boulder.
Maybe it's because that restaurant is just a stone's throw from the notoriously booze-soaked Williams Village dormitories at CU Boulder, or perhaps I was just feeling reckless -- but either way, the Haus's Long Island Iced Tea ($10) was calling to me.
It's a simple preparation, though Drakes Haus uses Grand Marnier and lemon juice in place of sour mix, which is the standby of some lower-tier establishments. As I sipped the drink -- slowly, ever so slowly -- the bar staff commiserated about their LIIT experiences. "That's the kind of drink where you have to keep an eye on someone," John Musselman, the bar manager, chimed in.
Two men in very different parts of the country lay claim to the invention of the Long Island Iced Tea. Robert Butt, on his '90s-tastic website, says he invented the drink in 1972 as part of a cocktail contest where each entry had to have Triple Sec; Butt insists that he stumbled upon the concoction and came up with its name because of its tea-like appearance. "By the mid-1970's, every bar on LI was serving up this innocent looking cocktail, and by the 1980's it was known the world over," he writes.
Then again, the drink may have its roots in the South -- a place called Long Island in Kingsport, Tennessee. Ransom Boshop, a local businessman and rum runner, is said to have developed the drink during Prohibition as a discreet tipple that used his home brew. His son began popularizing the drink in the '40s.
I pondered these narratives as I sipped, getting progressively more woozy as the night went on. Yes, gentle reader, I had underestimated this historic drink. One more glass, and no doubt I would have turned into a "Girl Drink Drunk."
A few Haus merlot burgers later, though, I was back to normal. Does a Long Island Iced Tea actually taste good? Drakes Haus's version was well-made, drinkable but strong enough to remind you of its power. I'm damned if it doesn't taste a lot like super-strong sweet tea. But it only tastes good in the way that castor oil tastes good -- a challenge to be met, not a drink to savor.
For this recipe, let's take a note from Drakes Haus and use Grand Marnier and lemon in our LIIT, but up the dosage to serve a gaggle of future hangover victims -- er, friends.
Long Island Iced Tea (serves four) Ingredients: 2 oz. lemon juice 2 oz. cola 4 oz. white rum 4 oz. gin 4 oz. silver tequila 4 oz. vodka 2 oz. Grand Marnier 1-2 oz. simple syrup (optional, for added sweetness)
Combine ingredients in ice-filled pitcher, or divide between four Collins glasses. Garnish with lemon wedges. Acceptable things to shout while drinking include "Wooo," "Spring break, bitches" or "Drink your juice, Shelby."
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With every installment of Coming of Age with 21 Drinks, I'll be featuring a cocktail recipe cooked up by me or the bar itself. Have a suggestion for a place I should visit? Post it below.