Cocktail Overhaul: Long Island Iced Tea

Cocktail Overhaul

Taking drinks from the Dark Ages of cocktails and revamping them, with delicious results.

Editor's Note: Please welcome Jeff Lucas of The Mix Lab, who will be creating delicious updates of drinks from what many consider the dark ages of cocktails. Take it away, Jeff!—The Management


[Photographs: JL Studios]

The Long Island Iced Tea is the perfect delivery system for a large volume of booze, a Trojan Horse, if ever there was one. Four ounces of spirits are delivered under a veil of secrecy by chemical sour mix and a splash of Coke. Despite being sweet and seductive, she is a fickle beast that will turn on you in an instant—every time you order a LIIT, you are one sip away from a bad decision. Could this potent punch be tamed and yet still retain its delicious bite?

The Long Island Iced Tea doesn't have the long history of the Martini or the Manhattan, but it's still one of the most popular drinks of the last 40 years. Its creation in the 1970s is attributed to Robert "Rosebud" Butt. He claims to have created the drink for a contest while working at the Oak Beach Inn on Long Island.

Bye Bye, Sour Mix

Order a Long Island Iced Tea in a bar, and you will often see the bartender reach for the artificially flavored sour mix, the bane of any good drink. In my cocktail overhaul, the sour mix had to be the first thing placed on the chopping block. Equal parts fresh lemon and fresh lime juice work much better to add a bright note of acidity to the drink.


To balance out that tartness, I used a cola syrup based on the recipe that appeared in the New York Times from the Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda. The original was quite citrus-forward but complex with a touch of floral flavor due to the inclusion of lavender. I tweaked it slightly to increase the spicy punch.

Getting Spiritual

The spirits in a Long Island Iced Tea are cheap gin, scary tequila, bottom shelf rum, and well vodka. Upgrading these spirits is a no-brainer, but I wanted to make sure the gin, especially, was approachable. I picked Old Tom Gin, which is less intensely juniper-laced than London dry gin, while offering a sweeter and more full-bodied mouthfeel. This stuff is an easy, comfortable step into the diverse world of gin. Added to the spirituous mix are a flavorful white rum and reposado tequila, with vodka stuck on the outside looking in.

Carbonate It

The final twist to this Long Island Iced Tea is the carbonation of the entire cocktail using a cocktail carbonator. Carbonation amplifies aromas and gives you the impression of a lighter and more refreshing drink. Carbonating the entire drink instead of adding a pre-carbonated mixer makes for a richer experience. Though iSi's handy Twist-n-Sparkle was recalled, there's also the Perlini cocktail carbonator, but don't despair if you don't have one; just add a little club soda.

With that, we've ushered the Long Island Iced Tea into the modern era. This revamped drink adheres to the spirit of the Long Island Iced Tea—it's still fun, and it's still plenty boozy, but the fresh citrus and homemade cola make for a more refined mix, and the carbonation makes for an explosion of flavor with each sip.

Get the Recipe

Upgraded Long Island Iced Tea »

About the Author: Jeff Lucas enjoys gadgets and exotic spirits. When it comes to food and drink he'll try anything at least once. You can follow his cocktail musings on twitter @the_mixlab and his blog at