Sweet Tea Vodka

firefly
Some of the best ideas seem ridiculous on their face. A destination resort in the middle of a miserably hot desert? Put sleeves on a blanket to keep warm while reading? Salty Caramel Ice Cream? Really? OK, the middle one is pretty silly, but you get my point. Lots of things will make you laugh when you first hear them, but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t good ideas.
Take, for example, sweet tea-infused vodka. If anything sounds like a misbegotten, trendy mess, vodka and sweet tea would be it. My initial guess, after hearing of the product, was that it was a new tertiary product like Mike’s Hard Lemonade.
But at 70 proof, sweet tea vodka is pretty much a full strength spirit. It’s suitable for mixing, doesn’t need to be refrigerated, and will keep after opening.
And none of that would matter a bit, if it weren’t also brilliant. I bought a bottle on a lark, after a recommendation of my friend Andy. In addition to being a pain in the ass at the poker table, Andy is something of a vodka expert, since he… um… drinks a lot of vodka. He was raving about the stuff the last time we played. I was in a generous mood, having hit my second diamond royal flush of the night, so I patted him on the head and said I’d try it. I’m glad I did.
There are three brands available in Ohio: Firefly, Jeremiah Weed, and Sweet Carolina. All were reasonably priced (Sweet Carolina is the cheapest), so I looked closer. Jeremiah Weed is made in Connecticut. Sweet Carolina is made in Maine. And Firefly is made in South Carolina. My previous post about brewing fresh sweet tea included some rather pointed criticisms of yankee habits regarding sweetening tea, so you should be unsurprised that I looked askance at the Weed and Carolina.
firefly-logo
Firefly is produced at a vineyard in South Carolina, and even uses tea grown on what I think is the only tea plantation in the United States today. They use real cane sugar, instead of HFCS, as well. The base vodka (distilled four times) is very acceptably smooth. In Ohio, I can’t get the straight vodka that Firefly makes, but I’m guessing that it’s pretty good too, given what I taste (or more accurately don’t taste) in the bottle I’m drinking now.

firefly-distillery
We are not talking multi-national lab-made spirits here, folks.

So seriously,
It’s actually good?

Yes. Yes it is. First off, remove the cap and give it a whiff. It smells delicious. Not interesting, complex, beautiful, or such adjectives, but actively appetizing. With only the gentlest of handling, the taste lives up to the aroma.
The simplest way to appreciate this stuff is to simply pour a couple of fingers in an old fashioned glass and fill with ice. Give it a good long stir to start the melt and garnish with a lemon wedge or sprig of mint, whichever floats your boat. What you have is one fine sip.
Now, my cocktail snob buddies out there may have a hard time imagining me serving up a drink which is prepared thus: Pour over ice. If you must have a fancy dan, make it fit for Vessel or Pegu Club, way of serving, try the following. You want your ice to dilute fast at first, then very slowly. I suggest you first put a little crushed ice, or the tiny cubes from an ice maker, in the bottom and pour in your Firefly. Stir well, then add big, cold cubes from the freezer. Your guests will feel that you went to some trouble for them, and the drink is both ready to drink sooner, and may be sipped more slowly.
A second way of serving Firefly, which I got from of all places the New York Times, is this:

  • 1 part Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka
  • 1 part fresh lemonade

Serve in a highball glass with lots of ice and a mint leaf.

It is also delicious.

Hey!
What’s the name? You forgot the name.

Name? Oh yeah. It’s a John Daly… you know, an alcoholic Arnold Palmer.

…!

I do have a quibble with what Firefly, and their yankee competitors, call this stuff. I get impatient with all the infused vodkas out there to begin with. The whole point of vodka is its taste neutrality and purity, after all. With the sweet tea vodka, I think we should probably consider it what it really is, a liqueur in its own right. What is a liqueur anyway, but neutral spirits buoying and preserving herbs or fruits with sugars? Firefly is only missing a secret recipe and a religious order to make it. But this stuff is good enough to outlive any current faddishness, so maybe in a century, the religious order will spring up.

About the author

Doug

I am 48 years old, married with two young daughters. My interests are tennis, reading, computers, politics, and of course cocktails. I run a murder mystery party business that caters to both corporate and private events, Killing Time, murder consultants.

26 Comments

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  • I’ve seen at least three other brands of sweet-tea vodka already, seems to be a race to get to market. From what I have heard, Firefly was the first, and the creator of the flavor, the others are copies, mostly from big spirit houses that make lots of other things. Like you, since Firefly is actually from the south, it’s the one I’d be most interested in. While in Denver last month, I saw flavored sweet tea vodkas from several producers – raspberry, peach, etc. I found myself thinking, why not just put in some raspberries if that’s what you wanted, but eh, that’s me.

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  • Sonja,

    This is my thought about 99 out of a hundred flavored vodkas. If you want lemon in your drink, put in some damn lemon!
    But the Firefly is different. This blending makes sense. I just think it makes enough sense to not really be a “vodka” per se any more.

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  • i just discovered firefly not too long ago (on a trip to myrtle beach) and it’s my new favorite! as soon as i got back to va i was able to get it and seriously was making myself a tea every night!! it seriously is the best!! i’m anxious to try the peach one next!

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  • In my post about the new movie Corked!, I made fun of/mourned the many small independent distillers who can’t or often won’t break through with a nifty product to the larger market.
    The guys at Firefly have certainly seemed to manage the trick. They apparently can produce in large volumes, and have the savvy to push those volumes out to the wide market.
    Firefly seems to be everywhere.

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  • It helps a lot that they partnered with a much larger company (not sure of the details, might be just distribution/ marketing deal, or there may have been an ownership share). Sazerac (owner of Buffalo Trace, Rain, and several other brands) is out there pushing the Firefly, which is most likely why it’s showing up everywhere now. Since Firefly was the innovator, I really hope theirs stays for the long term – it’s been interesting to see how quickly the bigger companies came out with their own versions. There were two other sweet tea vodkas here in Chicago before Firefly got here, and now we’ve got a few more coming around.

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  • I actually live in Charleston, SC which is the closest actually city to Wadamalaw Island, where Firefly is actually made so here it goes:
    It launched a little over a year ago in Charleston and was only in Charleston until about October of last year. The vineyard that makes it is VERY small so in order to expand outside of Charleston and keep up with the demand here they started working with a bigger distributor. Before this they could only produce like 12,000 bottles a week or something ridiculously small like that. Liquor stores would sell out in a day from all the tourists buying it to take home with them. It was like beanie babies, no lie. ;)
    Also, the regular Firefly vodka is horrible. Laughable, in fact. Which is why we were all pleasantly surprised when this ended up being amazing.
    Most people drink it half and half with water, so basically your ice melting idea, just a little quicker.
    I’m curious how much your bottle costs…I’m wondering if they jack up the price for people that have to try harder to get it.
    And yes, Firefly is the original. Jeremiah Weed and Sweet Carolina came out maybe…Decemberish of last year, so a good 8+ months after Firefly.
    Also, down here it comes in Lemon, Mint, Raspberry, Peach, and the original so I’m sure you’ll see those at some point as well.

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  • Mish,

    Thanks so much for the info!

    Firefly costs twenty bucks here in Ohio, same as the Weed, and five bucks more than Sweet “Carolina”. How’s that compare to you down there. I’m surprised that the straight stuff is bad. I was assuming it would be pretty good, considering. Ohio stocks (yes, the state itself sells all liquor here) two of the flavored Firefly variants, but I haven’t seen them yet.

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  • I am going to have to break up this general consensus of preferring Firefly above all of the sweet tea vodkas. I’ve tried all three brands and have to say that Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea is by far the smoothest, and best tasting of the three. I often make “Weed-Ade” at my BBQ’s which is Jeremiah Weed mixed with lemonade and crushed ice. My friends love it and have even made the slogan “Drink it don’t smoke it”! Both Firefly and Sweet Carolina leave a burning taste in your mouth. Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea has my vote!

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  • Glad someone is sticking up for Jeremiah. Had this for the first time in Las Vegas last weekend. Enjoyed it so much I went to the local liquor store to pick up a bottle. They only had the Firefly, so I picked up this instead. It is still good, but I must admit I preferred the Jeremiah.

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  • Troy, I don’t know if Firefly or it’s competitors are to be found in Michigan. The three brands I name are available in Ohio, which is usually more restrictive than MI, so I’m guessing that they are there somewhere. The Firefly website has a listing of distributors in each state, who could probably tell you which retailers have it.

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  • I heard an interesting story about Firefly from a friend of a friend. It turns out that it started out as a small distillery and the son of a friend started working there. He went to get his degree in marketing and he came up with the idea for sweet tea vodka and did a lot of the leg work promoting it and Firefly. Once the business got going and was a smashing success he invited one of his business school professors down to check out the distillery and show him what he’s done. The next week he and a bunch of others were fired. The owner accused him of inviting the competition in and giving away trade secrets. I believe he is now suing them for wrongful termination and is trying to start his own distillery now. The lawsuit is in progress. This still doesn’t distract from it being one helluva drink!

    (Note: This was originally flagged by Akismet as SPAM. When I noticed it, I initially did not know what to do with it, since I can find no evidence anywhere of such a suit, and am unwilling to do any actual investigative reporting. This is a humor and opinion blog, and you should take any facts I relate with a grain of salt. Therefore, you should take the opinions of commenters here (and everywhere else on the web) with a shaker full. That said, I’ll allow it since I have no policy of moderating my posts, except for SPAM. Finally, I’ll also note that if the basic outline of events are as Nick relates, I’d suspect there is a certain Rashamon quality to them.)

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  • I live near Ann Arbor MI and today I just bought Firefly but they also sold jeremiah weed. I didn’t care too much for the firefly, but I wil try Jeremiah next time.

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  • Love both Jeremiah Weed and Sweet Carolina vodkas!! We discovered these on a trip to Savannah this summer. Being southerners ourselves, we would like to patronize the Firefly version, but are wondering about the amount of added sugar? We eat low carb and while spirits are allowed, sugar is not!! How bad is it?

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  • Lee,

    Huh. I don’t know about the phone number thing, but Firefly is available in over 50% of the liquor stores, at least in the Columbus area. It’s a full proof liquor, so look in the state agencies, not the grocery stores.

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  • Just came across this post…
    I tried Firefly at a friend’s the other night with Sierra mist of all things (instead of Lemonade). It was good! I went to pick up a bottle at the liquor store and saw Firefly was sold out, so I picked up a bottle of Sweet Carolina which was right next to it. 750mL of Sweet Carolina was $15.99, the same size of Firefly was $16.99.

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  • My wife and I tried Fire Fly Sweet Tea Vodka at Myrtle Beach and loved it. I dont care for sweet drinks but I thought this tasted like normal unsweetened ice tea(till it sneaks up on you) Hope I can find it in Columbus OH

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  • Just to clarify a few big points that no one on this thread seems to understand:

    1st: None of these brands are ‘infused’ with real tea. Rather they are all sweetened with High-Fructose Corn Syrup and use Caramel Color additive to make it look like it’s tea. NOTE: The bottles that are distributed in the area immediately surrounding the Firefly distillery do contain real tea leaves and but that is not the case for the largest majority of their consumers. This is how Firefly can say it is an all-natural product when that is not necessarily the entire story.

    There is a relatively new brand that was born in Austin, Tx and created by the founder of a popular bottled tea brand called Sweet Leaf Tea. Clayton Christopher and Chad Auler (Savvy Vodka) have created a real category leader with Deep Eddy Sweet Tea Vodka. First, they start with a 10x column distilled vodka (which beats most Vodkas on the market), they use premium whole leaf indonesian black tea, and pure cane sugar. and lastly it’s sweetened with clover honey from a beekeeper in Central Texas. http://www.facebook.com/deepeddyvodka

    Deep Eddy is currently is only available to consumers in Texas and Louisiana however, I have heard they are growing fast.

    That said, until you have tried Deep Eddy you can keep talkin’ up these others, but make no mistake…Deep Eddy is the best hands down.

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  • Josh,

    For the record, Firefly states categorically that FireFly sweet Tea Vodka is made with real tea and cane sugar in all bottlings. I have no doubt that what you say may be true about some of the brands I mentioned when I wrote this post, I don’t know.
    But no so with Firefly, though they do add coloring to ensure the appearance is consistent, like many major brands of all sorts.

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  • Ok so one of my Mid Western friends told me I should try the Sweet Tea Vodka & I kind of chuckled & said to him you know I am from the south right? And he swore by it, considering he is a brewer of sorts & a beer snob,he might be on to something. He like many others said mix it with straight up lemonade. So I said what is the best brand he said Firefly & my research began. I picked up a bottle @ the liquor store on the way to the springs for the weekend. I bought his fancy lemonade, but also a Gallon of Sweet Tea. Yes, you guessed it I mixed it with Sweet Tea, was a no brainer for the Southern Girl (I did add a splash of lemonade in one of the glasses & it was good on top of the sweet tea). Let’s just say by the end of the weekend everyone was taking a picture of the now empty bottle, so they could return on Memorial Day with the right stuff!

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