Cocktail Basics: The Long Island Iced Tea

long island iced tea

There are a handful of “bro drinks” out there that, when ordered, instantly make me cringe (internally) with horror. The Long Island Iced Tea, frequently referred to as an L-I-T, is near the top of that short list. I haven’t had one since I was maybe 24 (nearly 20 years ago). There’s a good reason: It’s nasty, ghetto, bro‘ish, lacks sophistication, and is generally not a treat for the palate. Furthermore, it’s deceptively far too high in alcohol content to let you enjoy one after the other without (a) upchucking your lunch in colossal fashion or (b) partaking in the timeless game of Grab-ass with the cute, young stranger directly to your left without permission.

Like the all-too-familiar (a) Progressive Party (b) hide-The-Keg-From-The-RA or (c) garage-top funnels, the art of consuming as many L-I-Ts as humanly possible is a tradition that’s been passed down from bro to bro, at fraternities nationwide. Similarly, the tradition has been handed down for generations – from father to son – in low-income neighborhoods throughout New York City. Why? Because for a beverage that’s 80 – 90% alcohol, it goes down quite smoothly [when made correctly] and offers some of the best “bang-for-your-buck” value proposition, in terms of getting all twisted for the least amount of money.

Now look, I’m O.C.D. That being the case, I’ve witnessed an alarming number of bartenders screw this drink up in royal fashion. Even with ghetto drinks, like a “Long Island,” I insist that it be made properly. For someone who’s had a half-dozen drinks, it probably won’t matter at all how it’s prepared. But, for a “connoisseur,” (I use that term loosely) there will be a massive difference between a cocktail prepared by a mixologist artisan and one made by a barkeep who is simply looking forward to funnin’ the next guest. Typically, the latter group has learned to [improperly] make the L-I-T via (a) the hand-me-down method of learning to bartend by an equally apathetic barback or coworker  (b) becoming learn-ed by means of worshipping Mr. Boston [ugh] or (c) a God-awful, waste-O’money “bartending school.”

Anyone can memorize recipes and win at the internets. However, not unlike attempting to become a successful dentist by doing nothing other than reading orthodontics books and trade journals, you will be an abysmal failure behind most bars without practical experience of some sort. Bartending does not equal drink memorization.

So let’s look at the right way of crafting a kick-ass Long Island Iced Tea…


  • 1/2 ounce Vodka
  • 1/2 ounce Rum
  • 1/2 ounce Gin
  • 1/2 ounce Tequila
  • 1/2 ounce Triple Sec
  • 3/4 ounce Sour Mix (or real-deal sour and a frothing agent)
  • 3/4 ounce Coke/Pepsi


  • In a 10 – 12oz highball glass (ideal), fill with ice. Every good bartender knows that ice takes up about 50% volume.
  • Add all the above spirits
  • Add Sour
  • Shake vigorously
  • Pour back into highball
  • Top with cola
  • Garnish with lemon


  • You can save much time at your bar by selecting highball glasses which have the same diameter as Pony (pint) glasses, therefore having the ability to be shaken with a standard, large (28oz) tin bar shaker. Otherwise, you’ll have to first mix it in the bar shaker. Yes, I’ve made my trio of Island Iced Teas in my illustrative photo at the top of the post in pint glasses. However, I over-poured. But I did manage to keep the proportions on point. 
  • Where most of my bar brethren fail with this drink is with (a) the proportions and (b) failure to shake before topping with cola or (3) failing to shake at all. They’re mostly lazy or just don’t know. Like a textbook Margarita, without a froth and properly infused ingredients, it’s simply a different [lackluster] drink.

Long Island Iced Teas must be shaken prior to adding cola

  • Tequila and Gin, as opposed to the other spirit ingredients, have very, very potent tastes that can easily overpower other flavors. I pour in the order noted above, ensuring I’m not pouring more Gin and Tequila than called for. Thus, the combination of ingredients, rather than Juniper and Agave, are what’s first noted on the palate.
  • A proper Speed Rack or Rail will be stocked with well or call Vodka, Rum, Gin, Tequila and Triple Sec as the first “line of defense” – the most frequently used spirits. This enables for lighting fast L-I-T preparation.


  • Electric Lemonade (a.k.a., Blue Long Island): Substitute Blue Curacao for Triple Sec. Top with Sprite/7up instead of Coke. This cocktail can be an issue. Bar Psychology 101 dictates that anytime a blue drink, of any kind, is served, half-a-dozen people will ask “what is that?” and probably order one.
  • Long Beach Iced Tea: Substitute Cranberry Juice for Coke. That’s all there is to it.
  • Tokyo Iced Tea: Substitute Kiwi Liquor (or, more commonly Midori) for Triple Sec. Top with 7up instead of Coke.

As you can see, the “Long Island” (as it’s affectionately abbreviated) consists of mostly alcohol. It’s a smooth cocktail, when properly prepared. Thus, you have it’s popularity among the “I like to get fucked up as quick and as cheaply and as smoothly as possible” crowd. I get a massive kick out of the throngs of revelers who order this drink only to add “…oh, and make it strong.” My standard response is usually something like: “No worries. I’ll take care of you. It’s mostly alcohol to begin with. I’m sure you’ll be satisfied.”

A wise man who wants to achieve the same plateau of imbibery, would simply order and sip slowly upon a classic Gin or Vodka Martini and be done with the adulteries. Bro’s aren’t feeling Martinis in most circumstances.



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2 thoughts on “Cocktail Basics: The Long Island Iced Tea

  1. At my bar, we put the coke in first, which lets you then float the shaken sour mix/spirits on top (if they’re aerated enough) for a good looking drink. In the UK, where cocktail knowledge is shamefully low, it’s probably the next most ordered after Mojitos, another drink for people who don’t know what they want to drink.

    • Interesting! I’ve never seen that before. Nor was I aware that this was a popular cocktail overseas! I guess that would make for a layered and colorful L-I-T! I’ll have to try it.

      Thanks for sharing.

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