There’s a lot I don’t remember from college. My favorite professor’s name. My sorority’s secret handshake. The Chaucer I memorized. Ironically, however, I do remember my first Long Island Ice Tea.
I had just turned 21 and my boyfriend had been going on about how good the Long Island Ice Teas were at the 5 Olde Nugget Alley, our local dive. He took me, knowing that the kindly barkeep (whose name I now also forget) would comp LIITs to newly minted 21-year-olds. I ordered one, pondering the drink’s cartoonish reputation as a raging, unrefined glass of pure ethanol.
It was delicious—bright and citrusy with just a hint of caramel cola. The seemingly random orgy of spirits somehow melded into one strangely mellow flavor. It was a more impressive trick than any behind the back bartending flair I’d ever seen.
Which left me with another question: Why all the hate?
The high octane warning is fair enough. More than a few times I acted as a crutch for those who’d fallen prey to the sweet siren song of the 5 Olde Nugget LIIT. But the prevailing conventional wisdom holds that it is an abomination. I find this ludicrous.
The truth is that the Long Island Ice Tea is fantastic. But most people have never had a good one.
What they’ve probably had is equal parts tequila, triple sec, vodka, rum, gin and sour mix with a splash of cola. This is indeed an abomination. Replace the sour mix with fresh squeezed lemon juice and you improve the drink 238 percent. Now it’s time to double the triple sec and promote that cola from a splash to a full two ounces. Now swap in semi-decent booze. Don’t go breaking out the Patrón or Grey Goose, but use something you wouldn’t mind drinking on its own.
Finally, let’s exercise a little self-control. Much of the Long Island Ice Tea’s soured reputation comes from the people who use them to drive their buzz 900 miles an hour into a brick wall. So stop filling imperial pint glasses with the stuff. This is a highball cocktail—treat it like one.
Because ordering a Long Island Ice Tea in a bar still often elicits a smirk or eyeroll from the bartender, I recommend you make your own at home and judge for yourself. Our recipe has been tested on both haters and LIIT apologists and come out on top. Give it a try, and when you come to love it, give a little salute to what’s-his-face, that forgotten yet marvelous bartender who showed me the way to Long Island Ice Tea nirvana.