When I set out to find the best hard iced tea, I may have gone into it with the wrong expectations. For starters, I thought that hard tea would taste like tea. A lot of it doesn’t. I also figured that part of its appeal is that it’s still rather than carbonated—you know, like iced tea. In fact, I asked our hard-tea-drinking Twitter followers why they like hard tea, and that was one of the reasons. But a lot of hard tea is carbonated! I like pretty much anything with booze in it, but this taste test left me a little baffled.
I tried a lot of hard iced tea brands, including all the Twisted Tea flavors we could get our hands on. (Twisted Tea isn’t carbonated, so that’s something!) I did my best to adjust my expectations, but I still wanted to find hard tea that tastes like tea—even if it’s mild, even if it’s green tea. From there, I mostly sought out drinks that taste good, but different enough from hard kombucha (also tea based) or hard seltzer to justify their existence. If you’re looking for something a little different to bring to the BBQ, check this list of the best hard iced tea.
- Loverboy Half & Half
This isn’t the best hard Arnold Palmer (read on for that), but it’s decent. And the Half & Half is much better than the other Loverboy flavors, which struck me as bitter. If you happen to want a hard tea with some carbonation, this is a good option. It tastes like tea. And that’s a start!
Credit: Merc / Loverboy
- Owl’s Brew Green Tea & Peach
Owl’s Brew is one of the progenitors of hard tea, but, sadly, most of their drinks don’t really taste like tea. If it didn’t say tea on the can, I’d just think I was drinking a mild, pleasant tasting hard seltzer. Their Green Tea & Peach was the exception to that rule. You definitely get green tea here—that nice, earthy flavor like green tea from a Chinese restaurant. Warning: All of Owl’s Brew’s canned hard teas are lightly carbonated. If you drink hard tea because you’re avoiding the burps, this isn’t the best hard tea brand. But it’s quite good and it’s a good alternative to Twisted Tea because it’s nowhere near as sweet.
Credit: Merc / Owl’s Brew
- Twisted Tea Peach
Twisted Tea is certainly the most popular brand of hard iced tea, but it isn’t the best hard tea brand. I tried all the Twisted Tea flavors that came in a summertime party pack—Original, Half & Half, Peach, and their limited edition Rocket Pop flavor—and Peach is by far the best. It doesn’t taste like phony peach flavoring; it tastes like peach nectar. It still doesn’t taste a whole lot like tea, but it tastes good enough that I’d totally grab one of these at a BBQ and be perfectly content.
Credit: Merc / Twisted Tea
- Arnold Palmer Spiked Original Half Iced Tea & Half Lemonade
Arnold Palmer Spiked is about as good as it gets when it comes to hard tea. It’s not carbonated. It tastes like tea—like Arizona tea, but like tea all the same. (It’s worth noting that this looks and tastes a lot like Arizona’s NA Arnold Palmer, but the hard teas don’t appear to be affiliated with Arizona.) This half & half is sweet. It’s tart. It’s incredibly refreshing. It was the one hard iced tea we tasted that I would go out of my way to drink again. Arnold Palmer makes a good hard iced tea—the best hard iced tea, in fact. Nice one, Arnie (also RIP).
Credit: Merc / Total Wine & More
Best Green Tea
Best Twisted Tea
Best of the Best