Firefly Sweet Tea Summer Highball

A refreshing summer drink, this is one to enjoy on a warm evening.  It’s a great way to enjoy Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka (read the review here).

3 oz Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka

Juice of half a lemon

Club soda

Mix and serve in a highball glass half filled with ice. Add the Firefly vodka and lemon juice, then top off the glass with club soda.

Wedding Gift Booze Review: Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka

As we posted earlier in our article A Boozehound Wedding or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bar, Shanna and I recently tied the knot. The process of planning and executing all the details and expenses of a wedding is a wonderful experience that can bring you closer as a couple and make you glad you only have to go through this stressful, nerve-wracking trial once (hopefully).

Luckily for fabled bon vivants such as us (read: notoriously debaucherous), friends and family were kind enough to restock our home bar in the form of wedding gifts. As we delve into the Boozehounds’ rebirth, many of these bottles will be featured in our new six-part series: the Wedding Gift Booze Review.

Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka

First on our list, due to popular demand (read: one man’s persistent nagging), is Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka. Now, my disdain for flavored vodkas is well documented (see also: The Method), but I have made an effort to go into this review with an open mind. Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka comes to us well recommended, and Shanna, at least, doesn’t share my admittedly snobby perspective.

Firefly Distillery has been operating on Wadmalaw Island in South Carolina since 2008 and now offers six varieties of tea infused vodkas, and one sweet tea bourbon. According to their website, Firefly distills its vodkas four times and blends it with Louisiana sugar cane.

Most spirits are distilled only twice with the exception of Irish whiskey, which is triple distilled. Each time a spirit is distilled it becomes more concentrated and increases the alcohol content, with a double distilled product usually around 80-100 proof. I think that it is a testament to the volume of Louisiana sugar cane added to this spirit that after being distilled four times, the final product is still only 70 proof. And there lies the crux of my only criticism of Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka.

This spirit, in its attempt to lasso the novelty cocktail market, has wedged itself into an odd rut. Firefly is too sweet to be a liquor, but too strong to be a liqueur. To drink the spirit straight is like drinking sweet tea syrup. It tastes more like sweet tea than actual sweet tea does and the effect almost makes one feel a bit ill.

But here comes the part where I redeem this sad, mean review. Despite the spirit’s faults on its own, it actually does mix rather well. Now generally when mixing drinks you want to hit a nice balance so that flavors complement each other without overwhelming. Here though the primary goal is to drown the sugar and therefore tall drinks will be your best bet.

Mixing Firefly, we thought that simplicity was probably wise. This vodka has enough flavor to it that adding too much else will end up tasting muddled. We figured that a highball of Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka, lemon juice, and club soda would work quite neatly. (Full recipe to follow) And we were right.

Surprisingly, and perhaps to my mild chagrin, the result was very pleasant and refreshing. At a proper level of dilution it’s possible to actually taste the tea in the sweet tea. The result is a very nice drink for a hot summer evening. Precisely what Firefly Distillery is shooting for.

Firefly’s website also boasts an impressive list of suggested mixes, largely contributed by fans. An alarming number of these recipes, though, encourage you to add even more sugar to your drink, perhaps in bold defiance towards the looming specter of diabetes. However, one of these recipes we can endorse is the Mo-Tea-To, and we’ll post that shortly.

My overall assessment of Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka can be summed up as “better than expected.” Perhaps I am a bit of a reactionary against the Appletini crowd, and this has been something of a lesson to me. I maintain that flavored vodkas and overly sweet cocktails are a crutch for drinkers and bartenders alike, but I’ll at least make an effort to judge each drink on its own merits.

Mad Men and Vodka Gimlets

Here at Boozehound HQ we watch television shows and play video games with our cocktails. It’s always fun to pair up the two if you can, and Mad Men is the best show for it (and one of our favorites still on television).

When we started Season One we made Vodka Gimlets, but we learned from our mistakes soon after. Here’s a tip that we wish to pass on to you: do not use Rose’s Lime Juice, or any other premixed lime juice for your Gimlet.

Tasty limes that we claim no ownership to

Vodka Gimlet from amctv.com

Here’s how to mix one up proper for your Mad Men Season 4 premier party:

3 Tablespoons vodka (the taste of the vodka really matters in the Gimlet, so don’t go low-shelf for your brand)

1 1/2 Tablespoons lime juice (fresh squeezed)

3-4 lime slices (when buying limes do a test: good limes smell great on the outside, and this is an obvious one but make sure you thoroughly wash the limes before cutting)

Shake and strain over the ice and limes. If you’ve got more of a sweet palate add some simple syrup to the mix. You always have a bottle in the fridge, right? You should. Need a more Roger Sterling or Betty Draper sized Gimlet? Double the recipe and make sure your glass is big enough for all the ice and lime slices.

Homemade Limoncello

Here at IPTB headquarters (our tiny apartment), Shanna and I have embarked on a new and bold boozological experiment. After a fair amount of research we are attempting to make our own homemade Limoncello. This lemon flavored liqeur is a traditional Italian drink that can be mixed into a variety of cocktails, but is most often enjoyed on its own. It’s the sort of drink that seems like it was invented just for long summer evenings with a few close friends.

We’ve found a few different websites each with their own tips and tricks but the general idea is the same. Essentially the process is this: 1) Add lemon peels to vodka (or Everclear if you’re willing to pay that much) and let it sit. 2) Add simple syrup and let it sit some more. 3) Strain the peels out, chill, and enjoy. However, the ratio of peels to vodka to syrup depends on where you look, as does the amount of time you should allot for each step. We’ve seen the process range anywhere from two days to two months, but general consensus says that the longer you wait, the better your result will be. Think of it as an exercise in patience, a zen meditation, but instead of Nirvana your reward is delicious lemon flavored hooch. That’s why we’ve decided to allow the full two months for step one and an additional two weeks for step two.

Choosing and preparing your ingredients is also a very important part of the process. Organic lemons are said to work best with any wax or dirt washed off. When peeling your lemons, be sure to get only the yellow rind. The white pith will make your limoncello bitter. (We were perhaps not as vigilant on this front as we should have been, but that’s why it’s an experiment.) We used the peels from 10 lemons and almost an entire 1.75 liter bottle of Crown Russe vodka. Cheap vodkas are supposed to work better, but I personally hold hangover-induced grudges against Vladimir and Banker’s Club.

Once you’ve let your peels steep as long as you can stand, make about 2-3 cups of simple syrup with equal amounts water and sugar. (2-3 cups of each. If you remember back to high school chemistry, when sugar dissolves in water, it retains the same volume as the water.) Add this to your alcohol and peels, and allow it to sit some more, generally around two weeks.

Once these two weeks are up, you’re officially done! Time to sit back and enjoy your delicious homemade beverage.

Additional tips: At some point in the process you’re bound to end up with 10 peel-less lemons. Rather than let them go to waste, squeeze the juice out of them, throw it in a bottle, and you’re set for as many Sidecars or Jack Roses as you can handle.

For more info, this is the website we found most useful: Homemade Limoncello Recipe

White Russian

The White Russian may not enjoy the same popularity today as it has in the past, but it’s certainly benefited from the influence of one Jeffrey Lebowski, aka The Dude. Alternately known as a Caucasian, this is a great dessert drink and one of my personal favorites. Many people like to play around with the ratio depending on whether they prefer a dryer, sweeter, or creamier drink but after extensive study this is the recipe that I think works best.

2 oz vodka

2 Tbs coffee liqueur (such as Kahlua)

2 Tbs light cream or milk

Pour the ingredients into a shaker half filled with ice and shake well. Serve on the rocks in an Old Fashioned or double rocks glass.

It’s important to serve a White Russian on the rocks with large ice cubes that won’t melt quickly. If you drink your White Russian slowly (and you should, remember how much vodka’s in there) your ingredients may start to separate out a bit. Just give it a gentle swirl and your ice will mix it back up again.

The Mind Eraser

The Mind Eraser is another layered drink, much like The Pousse-Café. Be sure to read our article “Layered Drinks” to learn the technique for building one. The Mind Eraser is a more modern recipe and less aesthetically appealing than many other layered beverages (it’s hard to see the boundary between the vodka and club soda layers), but it’s also one of the tastiest.

1 oz coffee liqueur (such as Kahlua)

1 oz vodka

1 oz club soda

Layer the ingredients in the order provided in a Pousse-Café or other tall glass.

Once you’ve built yourself a Mind Eraser adorn it with a short straw for the finishing touch. If done correctly, you should use the straw to suck down the whole drink in one gulp, from the bottom up. It’s a great way to kick off a party and this drink definitely lives up to its name.

The Kangaroo

Those who have read our previous article On Martinis may recall that what many people refer to as a Vodka Martini is in fact properly known as a Kangaroo. (If it doesn’t consist of some ratio of gin and dry vermouth, it’s not a Martini.) But just because the Kangaroo is a commonly misnamed drink, doesn’t make it a bad drink.

Now, I have no idea why this cocktail was dubbed the Kangaroo, but I do have a theory. When the British arrived in Australia around 1770 they asked the Aboriginals, “I say, what on Earth is that odd looking creature over there?” (or something to that effect), to which the response was “kangaroo.” As it turns out though, “kangaroo” is really just the Aboriginal phrase for “I don’t know what you’re saying,” which, incidentally, should also be your response when someone asks you for a Vodka Martini.

3 oz Vodka

1 oz Dry Vermouth

Garnish with a twist of lemon or a cocktail olive

Because the Kangaroo lacks the juniper and citrus flavors that gin contributes to a Martini, the vermouth very much dominates this drink. For a more balanced cocktail, you may want to go drier and bring the vermouth down to 1 tablespoon.

The Highball

Many of the drinks that we feature on this blog (or plan to feature as our recipe index becomes a bit more extensive) are cocktails. But those certainly aren’t the only mixed drinks out there and one of the most common types of mixed drink is the highball.

A highball is any tall drink that mixes a base spirit with a carbonated beverage, which includes the Vodka Tonic, Gin Rickey, Rum and Cola, etc. Highballs are some of the most versatile drinks out there because the proportions can always be altered to your specific taste. Unlike a cocktail, which so often depends on a balance of competing flavors, a highball can always be customized depending on how dainty or robust the drinker is.

Another advantage of a highball is that you don’t need a shaker or mixing glass. Simply fill your serving glass (traditionally a highball glass) with ice, add your ingredients, stir, and then serve. The ease and simplicity (and lack of extra glasses or shakers to wash) make highballs a great option for parties. Plus, less liquor in a bigger drink makes it easier for guests to pace themselves.

Unfortunately, the highball is often the product of an, “I don’t want to taste my liquor so I’ll mix it with Mountain Dew” mentality. On the contrary, a good highball will allow you to enjoy the flavor of your favorite brand of gin, whiskey, or other spirit, while taking the edge off the alcohol.

To get you started, here’s a few of our favorite highball recipes:

Gin (or Vodka) and Tonic: This classic drink is very nearly the pinnacle of simplicity. Style never goes out of style, and neither will the Gin and Tonic. Garnish with a twist of lemon or lime.

Dark and Stormy: One of the lesser-known highballs, simply blend Dark Rum with Ginger Beer (not Ginger Ale, the distinction is important). Or, you could swap out the Rum for Vodka, add a splash of lime juice, and you’ve got a Moscow Mule.

Gin Rickey: A Rickey is any highball wherein a base spirit is mixed with soda water and a splash of lime juice. The most common variety is the Gin Rickey, but any liquor will do and the Applejack Rickey is also rather tasty.

Because the highball is so flexible and there are so many different sodas out there, there’s no reason to stick to the same old Jack and Coke every weekend. Go ahead and try your own combinations and let us know if you come up with anything particularly tasty.

-Matt