Rescuing the Long Island Iced Tea

Bartender Paul Taylor of Columbia Room reconsiders the notorious, college-age cocktail.

“The original Long Island Iced Tea, from my memory, was this very homogeneous thing that tasted of ethyl alcohol and bad decisions,” recalls bartender Paul Taylor, who recently set about rescuing the oft-maligned gut-punch of a cocktail, alongside its disgraced siblings—the Midori Sour and the Appletini—for his current menu at Washington D.C.’s Columbia Room.

“I just wanted to redo them through the lens of being refined, or something that people in the cocktail world would actually order,” says Taylor of the impetus behind his “So Bad It’s Good” menu that debuted this past August.

Despite the reputation of the Long Island Iced Tea as a guaranteed hangover inducer—a typical recipe consists of vodka, tequila, rum, triple sec, gin and a splash of cola—for Taylor, its basic profile still held potential. “A lot of those flavors are things that a lot of people like,” he notes. “Coca-Cola’s been very popular for a long time, and I think that’s one of the better items in the Long Island Iced Tea,” says Taylor.

In fact, it was the cola that became the focal point of his reworked version—everything else followed. “We didn’t want to remake Coca-Cola,” says Taylor of the drink’s foundation. “We wanted something that was specific to the cocktail that we’re making here.” Taylor and his team settled on a spice-forward recipe, incorporating cinnamon, nutmeg and coriander alongside hints of orange, lemon and neroli, which, in combination, served to push forward the flavors found in the drink’s other ingredients.

For a notoriously boozy cocktail, Taylor’s L.I.I.T. interpretation clocks in at a far more reasonable ABV than the original. When he first began tinkering with a refined version of the drink, he envisioned creating an entirely low-proof take, calling on a host of fortified wines to add complexity without upping the ABV. The result, however, ended up tasting too much like Kalimotxo, so he returned to the drawing board.

In the current rendition, vermouth still makes an appearance, a holdover from his earliest experiments with the cocktail more than a decade ago. “When I was working at a sports bar and making Long Islands and just starting to get into cocktails, I would put an ounce of sweet vermouth and lower everything else,” remembers Taylor. He takes a similar tack here, keeping the spirit quotient lower than might be expected by infusing a Spanish-style rum—Flor de Caña—with green peppers to hint at vegetal lowland tequila flavors without adding any agave spirits to the mix. “Sort of a two-for-one deal there,” he says.

To bolster the “Christmas tree notes” of the house-made cola, Taylor adds a measure of St. George Terroir gin, whose Douglas fir and California bay laurel infusions he describes as “an incredibly polarizing flavor,” but one which “adds a lot of interest to the drink.” To fortify the spice notes further, he adds amaro, specifically Meletti, which contributes a root beer flavor, while house-made sour mix—simply sugar, lemon, lime and salt—takes the place of “the gross pasteurized stuff” typically found in the original.

The drink is served in a Riedel Coca-Cola glass and topped with what Taylor describes as “a comically large lemon wedge.” It’s a lighthearted touch that nods to the slapdash construction of a typical Long Island Iced Tea, and serves to counterbalance the seriousness of the cocktail it sits atop. “The goal here was to create something delicious that felt nostalgic,” says Taylor, “in a way that you’re like, ‘I remember when I had this, but I don’t remember it tasting this good.’”

Building Columbia Room's Long Island Iced Tea

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