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 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.
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.
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.