Sweet Tea & Vodka: Deep Eddy, A Uniquely Texas Spirit

Deep Eddy Sweet Tea Vodka couldn't be more Texas if it tried.

Its namesake is the oldest swimming pool in Texas, on the National Register of Historic Places. The water for Deep Eddy comes from an artesian well in north Texas, and the corn for the vodka -- which is distilled 10 times -- from south Texas. Texas clover honey and Imperial cane sugar are the only sweeteners. It contains no artificial colors or preservatives or high-fructose corn syrup, unlike every other sweet tea vodka on the market.

The only thing not from Texas? The orange pekoe tea leaves, which were sourced from Indonesia.

"If we could grow tea in Texas, we would. But we can't. So instead, we went all the way to the other side of the world to find the best tea leaves out there," laughs Chad Auler.

He's one of the co-founders of Austin's Deep Eddy, a sweet tea vodka that's becoming the new it-drink among bartenders and mixologists across the state. Auler is seated next to the other co-founder, Clayton Christopher, and the two Texas-born men look as if they could be brothers, often exchanging laughs and completing each others' sentences.

Auler is the man behind Savvy Vodka, one of the many vodkas being crafted and distilled in the central Texas area, like Tito's out of Austin and Dripping Springs out of...well...Dripping Springs. Unlike many other vodkas, Savvy is distilled a remarkable 20 times before being bottled. Auler brought that same fierce determination to quality and a smooth finish to the table when he partnered with Christopher to create Deep Eddy.

Christopher wasn't unfamiliar with the beverage world prior to creating Deep Eddy, however. He brought his own very unique talent to the table: brewing tea. Christopher founded Sweet Leaf Tea, the nearly ubiquitous iced tea found in bottles nearly everywhere you look, 12 years ago and joined up with Auler after selling a portion of his company to Nestle a year ago.

"Deep Eddy is the only sweet tea vodka in the nation that's actually infused with real tea," Christopher says, proudly. "We use a classic orange pekoe, with really bright top notes that come out when you smell the vodka." And he's right: Sniffing a sample of the Deep Eddy, all I can smell is the happy, sunshine-laced scent of freshly brewed iced tea. More importantly, that's all I can taste, too.

This could be dangerous.

"The hangovers from Deep Eddy are almost non-existent," Christopher asserts with a broad smile. "A lot of it has to do with the glycemic index of the honey and cane sugar that we use. The glycemic index of high-fructose corn syrup is through the roof. It gives you a sugar high and makes you feel even worse the next day."

Mixed with some Sweet Tea lemonade, the Deep Eddy makes for a wicked twist on a Arnold Palmer -- "We call it the John Daly," laughs Auler -- that almost makes me want to test Christopher's assertion.

The caffeine that Deep Eddy contains can't hurt the "zero hangover" factor, either. "And it tastes a lot better than a vodka-Red Bull," says Auler. The caffeine is naturally present, as the tea is brewed in large, strong batches and then added to the distilled vodka along with the cane sugar and clover honey.

Using real tea makes a difference you can easily taste, especially when compared to Firefly, the popular brand that kicked off the sweet tea vodka trend in 2008. Firefly, like every other sweet tea vodka on the market, uses artificial colors and flavors (Ed. Note: We regret the error and would like to note that Firefly does not use artificial flavors in their sweet tea vodka.), and the first time I tried it, I instantly disliked it.

Wary of wreaking the same kind of havoc on my tastebuds once again, I wasn't overly excited about the Deep Eddy guys coming to the office with samples of their product. So I was more than pleasantly surprised to find the vodka not just tolerable, but downright tasty.

The credit for the smooth taste depends on who you ask: Auler or Christopher. For Auler it's the intense distillation process that removes almost any trace of impurities in the liquor. "Most places only distill their vodka a few times. Smirnoff brags that their vodka is triple-distilled," he says with a grin.

For Christopher, the credit for the taste goes to the Indonesian tea leaves. "Fifteen percent of the bottle by volume is tea," he points out. With that much tea in the bottle, it had better taste good. But they both agree that Deep Eddy is their baby. "It's up to you to raise this child right," Auler smiles.

Deep Eddy can be found at retailers like Spec's as well as bars like Onion Creek (and its sister restaurants), Griff's, Pub Fiction and the Mezzanine Lounge, as well as higher-end places like The Grove and Haven. It isn't currently sold outside of Texas.

And as if you needed another reason to purchase such an authentically Texan product, a portion of all the proceeds from the sales go to support the Friends of Deep Eddy, an Austin-based group dedicated to protecting the 75-year-old swimming hole.

Like the bottle says: "Take a dip..."