Sweet tea vodka has its detractors, but few can make a better case against the typically artificial-tasting drink than a tea manufacturer.
"You look on the backs of the bottles; they use high-fructose corn syrup, caramel coloring, red dye number five and rotgut vodka, pardon my French," says Clayton Christopher, who founded Austin's Sweet Leaf Tea Co. in 1997. "That product could be so much better."
Christopher partnered with SAVVY Distillers founder Chad Auler to blend premium vodka with whole-leaf Indonesian tea, clover honey from Austin, cane sugar from Sugarland and Texas spring water. Deep Eddy Sweet Tea Vodka -- their idea of a better alcoholic sweet tea product -- was released in Austin earlier this year and hit Dallas shelves last month.
According to Christopher, Deep Eddy is the only flavored vodka made from brewed tea.
"You can actually taste the tea," he says.
Indeed you can. Deep Eddy sent City of Ate a sample bottle, and one whiff sent us scrambling for china cups and cucumber sandwiches. But the taste was remarkably complex for flavored vodka, a market segment that's home to some of the spirit world's most wretched innovations.
Christopher claims the natural ingredients responsible for the vodka's clean flavors are also a boon for drinkers at risk of over-imbibing:
"We've had feedback from bartenders saying the hangovers are not as bad," he says.
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"Bartenders are going crazy with this stuff," he adds. "They're putting it with Grand Marnier, muddled peaches."
Asked why mixologists capable of muddling their own peaches can't add vodka to sweet tea, Christopher touts the liquor's complexity:
"People can certainly buy vodka and bottled tea, but they'd have to formulate it just right," he says. "We want to make people lazy."
Sales figures suggest Deep Eddy could help make for a very lazy summer: The liquor -- which is available at retail stores and bars including Screen Door and City Tavern Restaurant -- is now the third-bestselling flavored vodka in Texas.