Don’t Denigrate, Elevate!

I know more than one bartender that would probably refuse (or wish they could refuse) any request for a drink that they feel is beneath them to make.  I understand this feeling, and have felt it at times when taking requests for drinks that I thought were undeserving of my time and effort.  But then again, there was that day in culinary school…

I used to stay up late to watch the original Iron Chef show from Japan.  I’ll never forget the episode with Koji “mad” Kobayashi.  He was, apparently, a talented, innovative and highly-trained cook that refused to ever make the same dish twice.  He therefore quit the business and started driving a food delivery truck.  He continued to cook meals for his family – each one being a completely new creation.  He was a challenger on Iron Chef, and if memory serves me right, he beat iron chef Chen Kenichi.  I was impressed and told the story to my chef instructor, who said, “It sounds like he forgot that cooks cook for other people.”  I immediately understood the warning that the ego of the cook can get in the way of satisfying the guest – and that it would be a challenge for me.  The same can be true of some of the best bartenders.

With that lesson in mind, I believe that it is better to elevate a drink, and make it the best possible incarnation of itself that it can be, than to refuse to make it for fear of losing some professional preciousness.  One drink that I have heard friends say they would refuse to make for a guest is the Long Island Iced Tea.

This image is suggestive of the sort of association made when this drink is mentioned in bartending circles.  But, nevertheless, I had no doubt that the Long Island Iced Tea could be elevated.

When elevating a ‘low-brow’ drink, it can be helpful to determine which type of drink it is.  That way, the pleasing qualities for the type can be identified and utilized to make it something better than your guest expected.  The noticeable sour element in the Long Island Iced Tea makes it a punch.  That the weak element in it is carbonated, plus the fact that it is served on the rocks in individual portions, makes it a member of the Collins sub-genre of punch.  The main consequence of the soda being fancy (flavored and sweetened) is that the amount of other sweetening ingredients should be carefully considered for proper balance with the sour element.  Another point worthy of consideration when elevating is the best selection of method.  Most punches not made-and-served in bowls should be shaken.  The main difference between ‘stirring’ and ‘shaking’ is that shaking also aerates the drink considerably.  It’s true that shaking is not desired in drinks where the character of the liquor should not be ‘bruised,’ but rather left mostly-intact as the star of the drink, such as in slings (especially bittered slings – a.k.a. true cocktails).  The ingredients in true cocktails are proportioned and stirred to harmony.  But shaking (and its aeration) helps to produce the unified, balanced identity of punch (when made in individual portions as in Collinses, sours, fixes, etc.)  The ingredients in punches are proportioned and shaken to balance.

The initial issue to be resolved was the jigger.  Most Long Island Iced Teas are served with a hooker (2-1/2 fl-oz.) of total liquor – 1/2 fl-oz. each from five different bottles.  How was I to jigger (2 fl-oz.) the total liquor so that the best punch proportions could be used between sour, sweet, strong and weak – and have the drink be served in the same-sized tumbler as any other Collins?

The vodka found in typical versions of the drink is there just for its alcoholic content.  It does nothing for the flavor.  Another liquor, the so-called “triple sec,” is usually a low-proof, poor imitation of proper triple-sec Curaçao liqueur.   Proper triple-sec (“triple-dry”) Curaçao liqueur should be a liqueur of a secondary spirit of macerated orange peel.  I don’t know of any good one bottled at below 70 proof (35% a.b.v.).  Cointreau is not the only high-quality triple-sec Curaçao liqueur, by the way.  I chose to use Luxardo Triplum.  It’s very acceptible – and at 78 proof, it mostly obviates the need for the flavorless vodka in the drink.

In order to preserve the high-alcohol identity of the Long Island Iced Tea, I decided to use an overproof traditional (pot-distilled character) rum instead of an 80 proof light rum (remember that light rum is not necessarily light in color – rather in being so highly distilled that it is light in flavor, even if barreled until brown).  Wray & Nephew White Overproof is the right spirit for the job.  Being traditional rum, it provides a lot more flavor, and being 126 proof, it more than makes up for scaling to the jigger from the hooker.  I also used solid quality Tequila mezcal and dry gin to finish the jigger out, both being traditional ingredients in this drink.

For the sour element, I used the freshly-pressed juice of the Eureka lemon.  For the little bit of additional sweetness needed (beyond that of the liqueur and the fancy soda), I used superfine sugar.  For the cola-flavored soda (cola nut is one of the ingredients), I used Coca-Cola from Mexico (to avoid the inferior flavor of high-fructose corn sweetener).  I normally strain all non-carbonated ingredients of a Collins onto the proper amount of soda water, already in the Collins tumbler with the ice.  That is to allow the heavier rest-of-the-drink to mix itself with the soda.  In the case of the Long Island Iced Tea, the soda is fancy and sweetened, which makes it actually heavier than the rest of the drink.  This means that it should be added at the end, allowing gravity to perform the final mixing.  Whether plain soda or fancy soda is used, understanding the jigger as the basic amount of total liquor in the drink, along with the size of your service ice, will inform you in selecting glassware of the appropriate capacity – eliminating the haphazard “top up with” approach still found in too many bars.

Here is the result.  Try it.  I think you will find, that when elevated, there is nothing wrong with, or below a bartender’s pride about, the Long Island Iced Tea Collins.

(click the image to enlarge it and better read the recipe)

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