Southerners love their sweet tea in summer. “It’s everywhere––at every restaurant, every gas station,” says bartender Weisi Basore of the classic iced drink brewed from black tea and often spiked with a mountain of sugar. “With the hot, muggy weather, it’s just about the most refreshing thing you can drink.”
So in scheming the cocktail menu at casual small-plates eatery Bar Cleeta in Bentonville, Arkansas, that Basore opened with her chef-husband, Trae Basore, she felt compelled to pay tribute to the drink. Her Forefathers cocktail is a sweet-tea-laced rendition of an Old Fashioned that appropriately fits into Bar Cleeta’s cocktail collection: simple, classic-inspired libations made from just a few seasonal ingredients.
The cocktail is firmly in line with the restaurant’s New American meets Southern-inflected menu, where you’re likely to find charred chile-spiked market beans with caramelized sour cream and hazelnut gremolata or an onion and bacon tarte flambé.
“We thought we should bring a little bit of the metropolitan-style dining to the area,” says Weisi Basore, adding that despite a bit of polish, her husband’s food is still “incredibly homey and rustic.”
Basore helped the late Sasha Petraske open now-defunct White Star bar on New York City’s Lower East Side more than a decade ago and credits the cocktail pioneer with her training. From there, she eventually moved on to Manhattan’s lauded seasonal New American restaurant Blue Hill. Meanwhile, also in New York, her husband moved over from executive sous chef at Colicchio & Sons to executive chef at popular wine bar Pearl & Ash (both now closed). The couple spent a year or so in Los Angeles before committing to Trae’s hometown in Arkansas.
The Forefathers is liquid tribute to the South––one that incorporates the region’s most beloved summer refreshment and its prime summer fruit, peaches. To build the drink, she first makes a sweet tea oleo saccharum by macerating citrus with sugar, then cooks the mixture with sweet tea to form a syrup. She stirs that over ice with bourbon and a few dashes of peach bitters. “The oleo saccharum brings a hint of citrus to the sweet tea syrup and rounds out this version of an Old Fashioned,” she says.
2 ounces Evan Williams 1783 bourbon
2 teaspoons sweet tea oleo saccharum*
3 dashes Fee Brothers peach bitters
Garnish: orange peel
Add the bourbon, sweet tea oleo saccharum and bitters into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
Strain into an Old Fashioned glass over a 2-inch ice cube.
Garnish with an orange peel.
*Sweet tea oleo saccharum: Peel 4 lemons and 2 oranges. Transfer the peels to a sealed bag and add 2 cups sugar. Toss peels and sugar to coat. Press bag to remove all air and seal to close. Let bag sit at room temperature for 24-48 hours until the citrus’ oils have dissolved the sugar. Open bag and pour mixture and into a saucepan. Add 1 1/2 cups unsweetened, chilled Red Diamond tea. Cook over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes until sugar dissolves into tea and syrup forms. Pour mixture through strainer to remove peels. Cool and reserve until ready to use.