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Long Live the Long Island Iced Tea

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I have many fond memories of Long Island, home to one of my favorite branches of the O'Leary family, including my wonderful cousins Julie and Deirdre. As a child, I was in awe of their sparkling wit and giggled constantly at their wonderful stories and convincing impressions. If I managed to make them laugh at my jokes, well, that felt very cool indeed.

During one cousins-only lunch, I had them rolling, though I didn't quite know why. We had just ordered drinks (iced teas all around), and my seven-year-old self remarked, "I'm really thirsty. Can't wait for my Long Island iced tea!" [Intense laughter]

I thought I was just being cute and clever by describing my drink by its geographical location; only years later did I realize I had unwittingly invoked a hard alcoholic beverage.

Of course, the Long Island Iced Tea is not just any cocktail. Composed of four-plus types of alcohol with just a splash of mixer (cola, sour mix and/or lemon juice, depending on the version), the LIIT is not for the faint of heart. This seemingly haphazard combination of different types of booze with soda has led many to pooh-pooh it as a lowbrow concoction, a drink you consume only for the express purpose of becoming intoxicated tout de suite. Ordering even just one at a bar inevitably draws attention, and true or not, broadcasts the message "I want to get wasted."

For these reasons, I have never requested a LIIT in public or drank one in the company of non-friends. I resent, however, that this beverage carries significant social baggage. Although a LIIT is not my cocktail of choice, it's a fine drink when prepared well with top-shelf liquors, and doesn't deserve its stigma.

I have many hopes and dreams for summer 2013 and among them is that the LIIT experiences a renaissance. Just as tiki drinks were once spurned for being tacky and today are so-old-school-they're-cool, the LIIT is set for a glorious revival that will revamp its image for future generations.

Boozers of Houston, next time you're looking for a beverage with an edge, eschew that fussy absinthe vintage cocktail and order a Long Island Iced Tea.


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