Sweet tea is a Southern institution. In the South it is more plentiful then water, however this was not always the case. In the late 1800′s and early 1900′s sweet tea was a luxury. Sweet tea was a way to demonstrate ones status and decadence. There were several reasons for this. During this time period, tea, ice, and sugar were expensive. Out of all these the biggest luxury item was ice which had to cut and shipped from frozen lakes often over great distances and then stored into the warm months.
The oldest known recipe for sweet ice tea was published in 1879 in a cookbook called the Housekeeping in Old Virginia by Marion Cabell Tyree. This original recipe bears a strong resemblance to the modern version including the long steeping time and massive amounts of sugar. The only glaring difference is the use of green tea. Prior to WWII green tea was plentiful in the US and most sweet tea during this time period was made from green tea. However because of WWII green tea was no longer imported from Japan and instead the US turned to India which was under British-control and produced black tea. After the War, America never looked back and now black tea, specifically Lipton is the hallmark of sweet tea.
While people from the North may balk at the sweetness of the tea it is a refreshing summertime staple. But sometimes you need a little extra kick in your tea. The following drink was created by Simon Gibson of the Brooklyn Star. I discovered this recipe in an article written on Complex.com
Sweet Tea Sour 2 oz. Four Roses Bourbon
1 oz. sweet tea syrup
1 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. egg white Tea Syrup: Steep two large Lipton iced tea bags in three pints of boiling water for 30 minutes. Remove tea and add 1 quart of sugar while the water is still hot. Stir to dissolve and allow to cool.
For a Southern secret, try adding a touch of baking soda while the tea is boiling to help smooth some of the bitterness. The egg white adds a real nice texture to the drink. There is a a nice balance between the sweet and sour components but in homage to sweet tea on my second go round I dropped the lemon juice by a 1/4 to up the sweetness of the overall drink. I did not have have any Four Roses so I used Old Weller Antique.
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I discovered this recipe while skimming through the 75th Anniversary Edition of Mr. Boston’s Official Bartender’s Guide. The recipe calls for 1792 Ridgemont Reserve Bourbon Whiskey, which I did not have on hand. The notes for the drink state that this particular bourbon has a higher than average content of rye. I decided to go with a rye whiskey (Redemption Rye), although Bulleit Bourbon would have been another excellent choice.
Commodore Cocktail 2 oz 1792 Ridgemont Reserve Bourbon Whiskey (Redemption Rye or Bulleit Bourbon) .75 oz white crème de cacao .5oz lemon juice 1 dash (tsp) of grenadine (hibiscus grenadine) shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Some recipes call for equal parts of the first 3 ingredients and do not specify a high rye content bourbon. This will create an overall sweeter drink compared to the recipe I have listed. You should experiment to see which suits your palate best.
While its pink color may lure you into thinking its a sweet drink with no bite, beware for the rye gives it its fangs. There is sweet chocolately goodness throughout the drink with the rye making its presence felt near the end.
2oz bourbon (Makers Mark)
1oz fresh lemon juice
.5oz creme de cassis
.5oz simple syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
Shake all ingredients in an ice filled cocktail shaker and pour over cracked ice. Garnish with a lemon wheel or lemon wedge whichever works for you
This drink was sweet, fruity, tart with a faint hint of spice. The bourbon is evident throughout and complemented by the spiciness of the Angostura. Next time I will up the bitters to 2 or 3 dashes to add a heavier spice note.
In the process of making this drink I noticed that I still had some hibiscus simple syrup in the fridge. I made a second drink and replaced the simple syrup with the hibiscus. I found that this creates a softer drink with the floral notes of the hibiscus pairing well with the cassis and toning down some of the bourbon flavors. I garnished it with a lemon wheel and an edible hibiscus flower. Hibiscus flowers taste like a combination of sweet raspberry and tart cranberry.