Alabama’s Sweet Surprise.

Right up front, I confess that sweet tea is not my thing. I’m from a tiny river-valley town a dozen miles outside of Pittsburgh where you drank coffee or pop, occasionally lemonade or Kool-Aid, but certainly not tea.  So, image my surprise when on a recent RV adventure I discovered the near-magical powers of Milo’s Sweet Tea. 

We were in the last days of our month-long RV trip to warmer climes and ready if not willing to arrive home. While I prefer to keep my daily drive under 300 miles, today we were pushing nearly 600 miles.

My wife Fran is always experimenting with different c-store energy drinks in search of “clean,” tasty, and, and buzz-inducing. At an 84-Quick Stop somewhere between Andalusia and Evergreen, Alabama, she found the holy grail in the form of a 20-ounce plastic bottle of Milo’s Sweet Tea. If Milo’s is what southerners envision to be Sweet Tea, then I was born in the wrong latitude.

While Milo’s Sweet Tea doesn’t compete with the big, national brands in slick packaging, it makes up for it in honest flavor. The list of ingredients consists of tea, cane sugar, and water.  That’s it.

Brewed with few ingredients, I find the flavor surprisingly complex. The label refers to “custom-blended teas” which is usually a marketing term that means absolutely nothing, though in this instance means something. To my uncultured sweet tea palate, I could identify Milo’s in a blind taste test against the best sellers like Pure Leaf, Golden Peak, and Brisk. Overall, the caffeine from the tea combines with the perfect amount of sugar to deliver a steady drip of energy, keeping me alert and focused over many hours of interstate cruising.

The Milo’s back-story is even more interesting. The Company was founded as Milo’s Hamburgers in 1946 by Milo and Beatrice Carlton in Birmingham, Alabama. While the ‘burger business thrived, the sweet tea brewed and served at Milo’s caught fire.

Think about this—a mom-and-pop hamburger joint in Birmingham, Alabama, brew up such an extraordinary sweet tea that today, 70+ years later, you can find it sold in plastic jugs throughout not only Alabama, but also in Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana as well as parts of Kentucky, Virginia, South Carolina and Florida. No less an authority as Southern Living magazine described Milo’s Sweet Tea as the nectar of the south, “with an almost cult-like devotion.” It’s not like folks in these parts don’t have plenty of sweet tea choices.

Milo’s is still family owned and managed. Tricia Wallwork, CEO, is grand-daughter of co-founders Milo and Bea. Now housed in a massive production facility in the Birmingham suburb of Bessemer, the company brews and bottles over 300,000 gallons of tea each day. Growing beyond their southeast roots, the company is actively expanding nationwide with a second production facility on the drawing boards in Oklahoma. One of Milo’s biggest customers—if not the biggest—is Walmart. An American success story three generations strong. God, I love this country!

What I enjoy most about my RV travel is the way in which it opens a window to people, their foods and flavors, details that makes each place special to me. “Authentic” is so over used, but I’m going to use it anyway. RV travel gives you a different mind-set, an experience that popping into a Marriott just can’t deliver. And besides, without the RV I would have never tasted Milo’s Sweet Tea.

Author: RoadTravelFoodie

Writing the story on good food, good drink, and good people as I tour the country in a small RV. With no hard deadlines or flight schedules, I can take my time to explore local restaurants, farmers’ markets, the old-fashioned butcher shop, microbreweries, winemakers, the roadside BBQ, and more. Help me turn into a virtual neighborhood on which to share experiences and explore with others.

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