Long Island Iced Tea

The Long Island is one of those drinks whose name evokes memories—usually, a groan of nostalgic awe and respect for its potent reputation, or a chuckle of association with a foggy memory of overindulgence. Setting aside both perspectives, we have always been puzzled about the base spirits. For those of you who are new to this drink, you will find the combination to be unorthodox. The question remains: How can you mix four base spirits (all of the clear ones) with a little triple sec and end up with an odd, alchemical neutralization effect? It looks crazy on paper, but somehow it works. It is as if gin, rum and tequila flavors peak at different “phases” such that the combination dangerously flattens your perception of any of them. If you have ordered a Long Island in years past, you know what we are talking about. Combined with a little 80’s free-pouring flair, it’s easy to see how it can lead to huge proportions for unsuspecting victims that cannot tell what they are drinking.

But, like several cocktails that have come from the time before the current renaissance, there may be virtue worth exploring that can result in a decent modern version. Portland’s Jeffrey Morgenthaler has led this charge for several famous recipes served at the cozy Pépé le Moko. Notable examples like his Amaretto Sour, Blue Hawaii and the Grasshopper, revived and refreshed, seem perfectly normal sipped alongside a Negroni or Old Fashioned. The Long Island Iced Tea also graces the menu at Pépé, and made properly, we understand why.

Long Island Iced Tea (Morgenthaler method)
.5 oz gin
.5 oz vodka
.5 oz rum
.5 oz tequila
.5 oz triple sec
.75 oz lemon
2 tsp simple syrup
.75 oz cola

Add everything but the cola to a shaker with ice and shake to chill. Strain into a Collins glass over fresh crushed ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.

There are several reasons this drink works better today than you might remember. To Morgenthaler’s credit (and to that of all great bartenders), good cocktails are the result of three important elements: recipe, ingredients, and technique. For starters, we have a slightly updated recipe that includes fresh lemon juice and simple syrup. Fresh citrus will always improve what a sour mix can ruin. You will also notice modest proportions. Though this is still a strong, tall drink, it’s crucial to measure everything. And rather than reaching down for the bottles, Morgenthaler uses top shelf stuff which means a good, smooth gin, Cointreau for the triple sec and so on. Using great ingredients makes a huge difference in the combined flavors.

Finally, technique changes everything. We know, there are a lot of bottles, but take the time to be precise. Don’t “glug” your way through them just because the recipe calls for equal proportions. Also, keep the pour at half an ounce—you can always make another, and this is going to get pretty tall as it is. In the past, we would see this drink “built” quickly over ice, right in the serving glass. While this can be inevitable at high volume bars, at home, we can afford to be methodical, adding ingredients to a dry shaker and ice at the end. Shaking with ice chills, but it also begins the process of dilution which this drink needs. Straining over crushed ice (they use consistently-sized pebble ice at Pépé) ensures continued, rapid cooling and dilution.

We started with a 13-ounce goblet filled almost to the top with crushed ice. A typical beer glass that holds a 12-ounce can is perfect. The cola is really only for color effect, as there is not enough to carbonate the whole drink or add much flavor. But the lemon twist definitely adds finishing aromas that make a difference. Give this one a try—again—you’ll be glad you did. We found it to be delicious and refreshing and might have to add it to the summer rotation. We’d also like to experiment a bit with brands, given all of the amazing craft gins and agave options out there, not to mention the rum (we used a white Jamaican which was wonderful, to our astonishment). If you lean the flavor in one direction or another with various brands, let us know how it goes!

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