Where was Long Island iced invented, and who makes it best?


Though there are cocktails representing two different Long Islands, both recipes differ from the Long Island iced tea that we encounter today — Photo courtesy of Getty Images / Kanawa_Studio

Whether or not you’ve been there, you’ve heard of Long Island, New York for one reason or another. There’s the Hamptons, the Lohans and the Long Island Rail Road, for starters. But the fame of each of these pales in comparison to Long Island’s most indelible gift to the world: the Long Island iced tea.

But what if we told you that this heady mix of vodka, rum, tequila and gin wasn’t originally crafted in New York? What if the Long Island iced tea was actually invented in Long Island, Tennessee?

First, let’s get the most well-known origin story out of the way. The first Long Island iced tea of legend was allegedly crafted by “Rosebud” Butt in 1972, while tending bar at the Oak Beach Inn in Hampton Bays on Long Island.

In addition to the four main liquors, Butt added Triple Sec and a splash of cola to create a cocktail that went down surprisingly smoothly, despite the fact that it had enough alcohol in it to put a horse down for a nap. The cocktail, to put it mildly, took off.

And while you may not ever see it listed on a cocktail menu, the Long Island iced tea is surely one of the handful of drinks every 22-year-old knows by name.

But Tennessee also has a Long Island, this one in the middle of the Holston River in Kingsport. And the state has a Long Island iced tea origin story to go right along with it. According to Visit Kingsport, the world’s first Long Island iced tea was dreamt up in the 1920s by Charles “Old Man” Bishop, a bootlegger who operated out of Long Island, Tennessee during Prohibition.

Old Man Bishop’s recipe, which predates Rosebud’s by about 50 years, called for a half ounce each of rum, gin and tequila, plus a full ounce each of vodka and whiskey. The edge was taken off of this less-than-savory brew by topping the five liquors with maple syrup.

This recipe was also a hit, according to legend, but it wasn’t until the 1940s that it really took off. That’s when Old Man Bishop’s son, Ransom, modified the original recipe by adding lemon, lime and cola.

So who really invented the drink? Was it bootlegging Old Man Bishop or bartender Rosebud Butt? While it’s worth noting that neither recipe is quite the version that we encounter today, which is made by also including bottled sour mix, both Long Islands appear to have a legitimate claim to the cocktail.

In 2018, representatives of the two Long Islands even engaged in a public argument about who should take credit for the eponymous cocktail.

Long Island, New York bartender Butch Yamali wrote an open letter to Kingsport: “Not since the ‘Battle of Long Island’ in the Revolutionary War has Long Island’s honor been so challenged. We on Long Island celebrate our beaches, our accents, and most of all, our booze.” Yamali concludes by challenging Tennessee to a “Battle for the Tea,” to be held in either state.

But Tennesseans didn’t take that sort of talk lying down. Visit Kingsport Executive Director Jud Teague responded, again in a public letter: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so thanks a bunch! You may claim you’re the best but we’ll always be the original and there’s no getting around that. So, in the ‘Y’all versus Yous Guys’ challenge, we graciously accept. Be sure to bring your mom’n’em.”

Representatives from the two states met for “battle” in Washington in June 2019, after two taste tests conducted on each state’s home turf. Tennessee was declared the victor, but New York participants have disputed the results indicating that the contest was a fraud.

It seems that we’ll never really definitively know where Long Island iced tea originated and who makes it best.

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