An unsweetened iced tea mixed with lemonade is an Arnold Palmer. An Arnold Palmer made with sweet tea is a Winnie Palmer, named for the legendary golfer’s wife. And an Arnold Palmer charged with vodka is, of course, a John Daly.
But the simple two-ingredient drink that Arnie popularized (and Long John went on to spike) has gone far beyond the confines of just tea and lemonade, and now calls for spirits beyond vodka. Whether you gravitate toward the brooding and restrained, the floral and effervescent or the herbaceous and rich, there’s a boozy Arnold Palmer to suit your taste.
Consider L’Arnaud Palmer, which stars on the debut cocktail menu at Donna. While working to open the “2.0” iteration of the beloved New York cocktail bar in Manhattan’s West Village, former bar manager Kitty Bernardo was seeking inspiration for a new summertime serve to round out the bar’s offerings.
“I was looking for a different drink that I could put on the menu that was nostalgic in a way, but updated at the same time,” she says. While working a shift at her previous bar, a patron’s order of Cognac and lemonade led Bernardo to experiment with the often-neglected French spirit, eventually creating her own ode to the Arnold Palmer.
She selected a dry Cognac as the complement to what’s arguably the star of L’Arnaud Palmer: the tea component. Donna uses a meticulously crafted syrup that follows in the long Moroccan tradition of sweetened mint tea service. To make the syrup, the bar prepares a concentrated gunpowder green tea, steeped multiple times to extract different dimensions of the leaves’ flavor, then infuses that iced tea with mint leaves, stems and sugar. The final build is an ounce each of lemon juice and the homemade mint tea syrup, plus two ounces of Cognac, all shaken and served over crushed ice.
Other versions of the boozy Arnold Palmer pull it away from its expected serve in a tall glass over ice. The Bouquet de Bulles (French for “bunch of bubbles”), for example, a drink by Amy Racine of New York’s La Marchande, is served in an etched coupe glass. Made with chamomile tea–infused gin, lemon, simple syrup and a sparkling wine topper, the cocktail reads like a cross between the summer staple and a French 75. To bring out more of the chamomile’s sweet, floral character, Racine also includes a half-ounce of the elderflower liqueur St-Germain.
The Reverend Palmer, from New York bar PDT, is likewise formulated around letting a high-quality tea shine. The cocktail, devised by bartender Don Lee while he was working at the East Village speakeasy, showcases a toasty, honey-tinged black tea that is married with bourbon.
While bartending at PDT, Lee met Sebastian Beckwith, the importer behind In Pursuit of Tea, who introduced him to Ceylon orange pekoe. “It was the first British-style black tea that rivaled the depth and nuance of flavor you get from third-wave coffee,” Lee says. “Much like the first time I had Benton’s bacon”—the key ingredient in his Benton’s Old-Fashioned recipe—“I instantly began to think about how I could use it in a cocktail."
At the same time, Lee was also looking for a way to further utilize the lemons PDT was juicing, which often resulted in wasted peels. He started zesting the bar’s lemons with a microplane and making a lemon simple syrup to be used in the bar’s cocktails.
“I have always been a fan of the Arnold Palmer,” Lee says, “and as a kid growing up in Southern California I loved mixing the pink lemonade and unsweetened tea at In-N-Out [Burger].” With a sweet lemon component and an exceptional tea to play with, Lee worked both into an Old-Fashioned format by infusing the tea into bourbon, specifically the 12-year-old Elijah Craig, which he says has a woodiness that works well with the infusion.
As a template, the Old-Fashioned mirrors the Arnold Palmer in its pared-back nature and riffability. “I love the combination of simplicity when it comes to the number of ingredients and concentration of flavor. I find that working within what others might consider a limited structure gives me more focus and clarity in conveying my idea,” Lee says. “It’s like being forced to only write haikus instead of novels.”