The battle over the origin of Long Island Iced Tea

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 Railroad 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 (well, maybe not the Lohans).

But what if I told you that this heady mix of vodka, rum, tequila and gin (Whyyy?) 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 LIIT 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 LIIT is surely one the handful of drinks every 22-year-old knows by name.

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

Old Man Bishop’s recipe, which predates Rosebud’s by about 50 years, called for a half ounce each of rum, gin & 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 off 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 – yes, the bootlegger named his 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.

Because this is 2018, and we can’t politely agree to disagree about all that much, representatives of the two Long Islands are currently engaged in a public argument about who should take credit for the LIIT.

Long Island, NY bartender Butch Yamali popped off in 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 aren’t taking that sort of talk lying down. Visit Kingsport Executive Director Jud Teague has 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.”

Whether this is all just a bit of fun and ribbing, or the kindling of a new and divisive national nightmare from which we are doomed to never awaken, one thing is for sure: grown men shouldn’t even be drinking Long Island Iced Teas, let alone sparring over them! I say we give the credit to Long Island, Alaska and call it a day.

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