The New York Times has a straw, and I had a sweet-tea flavored milkshake

Goddamnit.

So my big ace in the hole freelance story I’ve been pitching since getting to New York is about Firefly, the sweet tea vodka phenomenon that quickly and without struggle conquered South Carolina last year. The company began nationwide distribution in the past few months, and it’s started popping up — with increasing popularity — at more and more bars in the city.  I have enough news sense to know that someone was going to write the story eventually, so I figured it might as well be me, what with all my institutional knowledge of SC and all. No bites yet. Then I found this today from a few weeks ago in the NYT:

A Southern Twist: Tea-Infused Vodka

Published: February 10, 2009

IT is such a simple idea, so plainly obvious that many Southerners can’t believe they didn’t think of it first: take the South’s trademark refreshment — sweet iced tea — and make it alcoholic.


Stephen Morton for The New York Times

That, essentially, was the recipe used by a South Carolina distillery last year to create a phenomenon. Its elixir, Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka, tastes almost exactly like the beloved sweet tea poured at generations of Southern family reunions, church meetings and picnics.

And here’s the story pitch I sent to the New York Times Dining and Wine editor on Jan. 6: (EDIT: typos in below letter were not in version sent to NYT editor. I think, at least)

The story I’d like to write is about Firefly, the sweet tea-flavored vodka (http://www.fireflyvodka.com), a new liquor that has already become a legitimate phenomenon in the South and is about to start nationwide distribution by this spring. The drink is made by a small distillery in South Carolina near Charleston not far from the only remaining tea farm in America. It seemed like an obvious combination, with two of the South’s favorite pasttimes — cold tea and easy drinking — together at last. And when it hit the shelves, South Carolinians wondered what took somebody so long to think of it.

One liquor store owner on Hilton Head told me he that even with the recession and down tourism numbers this summer, he had his best year ever, thanks in large part to Firefly sales. The demand quickly got so high that the company had to open up a second distillery in Florida. The owner of a magic shop in downtown Charleston tell me about how the drink is an evil temptress dressed in a Sunday church hat: “I just get so drunk off it because it’s just like I’m drinking tea,” she said. The drink has a kick, but isn’t too strong. Mixed with lemonade and lots of ice, it’s like a bottled version of a summer day escaping the heat on a Lowcountry porch.

Now, the company is preparing distribution in all 50 states, including places where the idea of “sweet tea” doesn’t even exist, such as New York and New Jersey.
Once word got around, liquor stores could barely keep it in stock. Several stores in Charleston didn’t even bother putting it on the shelves, instead just piling boxes on the floor and letting customers dig through. Some bartenders on Hilton Head Island complained to me that customers had virtually stopped ordering all other drinks.

The drink has a kick, but isn’t too strong. Mixed with lemonade and lots of ice, it’s like a bottled version of a summer day escaping the heat on a Lowcountry porch.

Now, the company is preparing distribution in all 50 states, including places where the idea of “sweet tea” doesn’t even exist, such as New York and New Jersey.

F my life. OK, not really, I’m going to keep pitching it, because there’s more that can be written about it.

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3 responses to “The New York Times has a straw, and I had a sweet-tea flavored milkshake

  1. Well, you would have had a better chance if you had not had at least two typos in the query.

    But, the story was clearly dripping with your letter…

  2. Mighty suspicious how similar the lede is from the Time’s article. Perhaps they’ve hired Jason Blair back.

  3. it almost sounds like the guy who wrote the article read your letter first! wtf?!?

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