Summer demands drinks to linger over. The hot sun is far more bearable in with a tall iced drink in hand, and there's nothing better to sip on a steamy afternoon than sweet tea.
A southern favorite, sweet tea is generally brewed with enough sugar to give even Red Bull addicts ADHD. Some people even make it with simple syrup, the massive dose of sugar combining with the tannins in the tea to create a refreshing mixture that’s tailor-made for sitting on a porch on a hot day as beads of condensation drip down the rim of a tall icy glass. Not surprisingly, like many American traditions this one has now been improved by the addition of alcohol - sweet tea vodka hitting it big on the cocktail scene.
Sweet tea vodka is a recent addition to the liquor lineup. Most brands started showing up just last year and bartenders quickly latched on to it. While still not quite as sweet as the real deal, the Arnold Palmer – a non-alcoholic drink consisting of half lemonade and half iced tea – hasn’t been the same since. The liquor-based version is affectionately known as a John Daly and replaces the iced tea with sweet tea vodka, of which there now are several varieties available. We tried four of the most popular.
Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea Vodka - Jeremiah Weed is one of the most well-known of the sweet tea vodka brands for good reason. A creamy mouth feel and tangy bracing sweetness that balances a real tea flavor make this a great ingredient to play with this summer. It goes down ridiculously easy, especially for a 70-proof liquor. At $15.99 for a 750mL bottle it's a solid deal and makes a mean JD. Coming from Kentucky, it's also great as a foil for bourbon. A lowball glass full of ice, 1.5 ounces of bourbon and topped off with Jeremiah Weed is an enjoyably unproductive way to spend an afternoon.
Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka - Distilled in Charleston, S.C. and flavored with tea leaves grown just five miles from the distillery, Firefly tastes exactly like a perfect glass of iced tea should taste. It was the first sweet tea vodka to hit the market and is still one of the most popular. It's refreshing, sweet, and the tannins in the tea keep you reaching for the glass. Of course, this is 70-proof iced tea, so gulping it like Nestea could yield some fairly interesting results. At $19.95 for a 750mL, it's a little pricier than other sweet tea vodkas on the market, but it's worth it for iced tea fans. The clean flavor works well in a number of cocktails, but the best way to drink is incredibly simple - a tall glass of ice filled halfway with Firefly and topped off with water. It'll disappear fast, along with your sobriety.
Burnett's Sweet Tea Vodka - At only $9.99 for 750mL, this bottle was approached with a little bit of dread, but it’s fairly smooth with only a trace of cheap vodka burn. The tea flavors are slightly muted in comparison to the others in the roundup, but there's a healthy dose of sweetness here - great for southerners reminiscing about the mounds of sugar their grandmother put in her sweet tea. When it comes to value, it's tough to beat this bottle.
Sweet Carolina Sweet Tea Vodka - A Maine export, Sweet Carolina Sweet Tea Vodka offers a solid expression of sweet tea flavor that's unfortunately hampered by a harsh vodka taste. It's far more obvious that this is a 70-proof liquor than the others. There are some great sweet tea flavors here though, and it shines in cocktails like the John Daly where the lemonade can help mute the burn of the vodka. Available as low as $13.99 for a 750mL, it's slightly cheaper than the other sweet tea options and a tasty option for a porch full of friends who aren't planning on going anywhere for quite a while.