Sweet tea is the signature caffeinated, sweetened beverage of the American South. It’s impossible to visit a diner without seeing it on the menu, generally in a large container with lemon wedges near and plenty of ice. Then there’s bourbon, whose long and storied history is rooted in the South, too, especially Kentucky and Tennessee, but even states like Texas have their own. It’s unsurprising, then, that bourbon and sweet tea would marry so perfectly.
Sweet tea is normally made in batches rather than in individual servings, and this recipe is no different. The process is straightforward, and you can make it a day or two in advance—though it’s important to keep it refrigerated.
The main question for this drink is what bourbon to use. Considering it is added to a good amount of black tea and sugar, there’s no need to go crazy with the price point. A bottle that is good and reliable in the $20 to $30 range will serve you best. Higher proof whiskeys—like a bottled in bond expression or even barrel proof—will be more assertive and cut through the other ingredients. Similarly, a high-rye bourbon will present more spice, which contrasts nicely with the sugar and tea, while a wheated bourbon is going to provide further sweetness.
This recipe makes around 16 servings of the punch, and with a cup of sugar in it, that means around half an ounce of sugar per glass. It’s not a proper sweet tea unless it requires an immediate dental visit; nevertheless, you can cut down on the sugar a bit, if you like. And if you’re looking for a drink that is similar but a bit different, next try the Sweet Tea Smash from the famed New York City bar PDT.
Click Play to See This Bourbon Sweet Tea Recipe Come Together
- 4 cups boiling water
- 1 cup sugar
- 12 black tea bags
- 6 cups cold water
- 3 cups crushed ice, plus more for serving
- 24 ounces bourbon (approximately one 750 milliliter bottle)
- Garnish: 16 mint sprigs
- Garnish: 16 lemon slices
Makes about 1 gallon, or approximately 16 servings.
Combine the boiling water and sugar in a heatproof container and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Add the tea bags and steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags and discard.
Pour the tea mixture into a heatproof pitcher or serving jar. Add the cold water, ice and bourbon. Stir well, and refrigerate until serving.
To serve, divide between 16 ice-filled highball or Old Fashioned glasses.
Garnish each glass with a mint sprig and a lemon slice.