This Ain't Your Grandma's Sweet Tea

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Anyone that knows me could take me to a restaurant any day of the week at any time of the day and order my  favorite non-alcoholic drink for me. My drink of choice? An Arnold Palmer, equal parts sweet tea and lemonade. But something happened recently that has added an all new twist on a classic favorite of mine. What happens when you mix innovation with southern tradition? An idea so simple and delicious that most southerners can’t believe they didn’t come up with it first. I’m talking about the arrival of “Sweet Tea Vodka”.  Coming up with the next great flavor is key to staying ahead of the pack in the beverage industry and right now everyone is pouncing on this one. That’s right folks, you’re favorite sugary down home beverage just became the hottest new “flavor” in  the market.

Most of the companies producing “The house wine of the south” started popping up last year. Originating in South Carolina, Firefly Vodka was the first major brand to be introduced to your local retailers and bars. Firefly is the brainchild of Jim Irvine and Scott Newitt, two southern gentlemen with a passion for the south. After crossing paths, the two put together their backgrounds in making southern wine (Jim), and selling southern wine (Scott) to introduce the idea of making a southern spirit that would remind them of their southern childhood. Most people immediately think of the south when they think sweet tea, and nothing reminded me personally of this more than the time I returned to my home town of Chicago, Illinois from my current residence of Florida. I clearly forgot where I was when I ordered a large sweet tea at a local restaurant and was quickly stared at in confusion. However that was back in 2006, now in 2010 sweet tea is gaining much momentum north of the Mason-Dixon line. The owners of Firefly noticed this after coming across a California distillery selling a green tea flavored vodka and immediately went into production of their own. Created in Wadmalaw Island, SC in 2008, Firefly became the first hand crafted sweet tea vodka. It’s distilled four times and blended with Louisiana sugar cane for some extra southern “umph”. Since then, they’ve introduced four flavors of their original idea, a sweet tea bourbon, two “ready to drink” mixes, and a plain vodka. Like any good idea, many are likely to follow and Firefly is no different. Since their creation, several companies have followed suit including Jeremiah Weed made in Connecticut, Sweet Carolina made in Maine, and Teaka sweet tea from ___. Additionally brands already synonymous with vodka have introduced sweet tea flavors into their lineup including Seagram’s and Burnett’s brands. Each of these brands offers slightly different tweaks of the original creation ( Level of sweetness, alcohol content) and are reasonably priced (Burnetts is the cheapest, Jeremiah/Firefly are the most expensive, and Sweet Carolin/Teaka are the middle of the road). But if decision making is your strongest attribute, don’t worry, I’ll help you out. It was hard work but I did my own personal taste test for your benefit.

FireFly: Is it subconscious that this was the original, or is it really just that good? When poured straight into a glass this was the most authentic in taste, and though just as high in proof as the other two I tried, came off the least like a flavored vodka and more like sweet tea with a twist.

Jeremiah Weed: This one was the most harsh of the three. Not only was it overly sweet, but the vodka taste in it was most noticeable. A lot of people defend this brand, and given a mix with lemonade (They now offer a pre-made sweat tea vodka and lemonade product) it is hard to judge between the three but on its own it is the least like the real deal.

Sweet Carolina: This one given its cheaper value is a good buy. Though it isn’t my favorite of the three, it has a closer similarity to real sweat tea than Jeremiah Weed in flavor, but shares an overage in sweetness with the previously mentioned. It’s also a bit thicker in texture, almost syrup like.

Well there you have it folks. With the 4th of July just around the corner, there is no reason you shouldn’t have a tall pitcher of one of these sweet tea vodkas around while enjoying the holiday with friends. Here are a few delicious recipes sure get you going.

The John Daly – Mix 1/2 parts sweet tea vodka with 1/2 parts lemonade. Pour over ice, add lemon wedge.

Island Tea – 1 part sweet tea vodka, splash of sweet n sour, splash of club soda. Pour of ice.

Southern Classic – 1 part sweet tea vodka, 1 part spring water. Pour over ice, add lemon wedge

Fire Fly Vodka

Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea

Sweet Carolina Tea


Alex is a full time consultant with 10+ years experience in the wine & spirits + consumer packaged goods industries. He is not a professional bartender, but is BarSmarts certified and makes a mean caipirinha. When not writing, Alex can be found traveling, spending time with his family, or bar hopping.

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