Best Long Island Iced Tea
How to Make the New Long Island Iced Tea
• .5 oz vodka
• .5 oz gin
• .5 oz white rum
• .5 oz Cointreau
• .75 oz lemon juice
• 2 tsp simple syrup (2:1 sugar to water)
Shake, strain into Collins glass over crushed ice, top with .75 oz Mexican Coke. Lemon twist.
Nobody likes good things. Let me start over. It's not that nobody likes good things; there is a robust market for alba white truffles, first-growth burgundies, o-toro, and the like. But it takes a lot of money to eat those things, and if they're not great, they're not worth paying for. And even if they are, who can afford them? So we like bad things, things like hash browns and hamburgers and bacon and cupcakes. That's just the way it is now.
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For that reason, making bad things good has become the great project of our time. And on a recent visit to—where else?— Portland, I saw two great examples of this. One was the spectacular, pancetta-wrapped meat loaf at The Woodsman Tavern. And the other, more beguiling to me because it's drawn from a worse original, was the Long Island Iced Tea at Pépé le Moko, the craft cocktail bar underneath the Ace Hotel.
Jeff Morgenthaler, the bartender/mixologist at Pépé le Moko, sees the same dynamic at work in bars as in kitchens. "I don't think this is any different from what chefs were doing ten years ago when everybody got into meatloaf and macaroni and cheese and all the comfort food stuff. Chefs had gotten to a point where they learned how to cook and could go back and make that stuff and turn it into really good food."
Morgenthaler is going in that direction at Pépé le Moko, creating better versions of post-prohibition drinks like Long Island Iced Teas and Amaretto Sours—the kind of swill typically downed by woo girls looking for good times. Those drinks were big in the 80s, when cocktails were typically made in haste with speed bar liquor and were no better than they had to be. "Why not use everything we've learned over these past few years and try to make it better?" he said. "Long Island Iced Tea is basically a Tom Collins. Some gin and a little lemon juice and some sugar and some soda. That's the basic formula."
To Morgenthaler, though, the recipe is only one of three things that matter when making drinks: the other two are ingredients and technique. So the bar uses Cointreau, "instead of cheap Triple Sec, " and El Dorado Silver rum and Tanqueray gin. The usual virtuoso bar techniques of the craft cocktail world follow— the perfect, pebbled ice, the arctic temperature, the hard shake—and the result is a hell of a drink. It doesn't taste like a take on Long Island Iced Tea. It tastes like Long Island Iced Tea, but good. Will Morgenthaler make the next logical step and rehabilitate Sex on the Beach? Or the Kamikaze? I hope he does. The future is the past in cocktails as in so much else.
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