Two origin stories compete about the famous “Iced Tea”
The Long Island Iced Tea is a drink with a controversial history. It has two competing origin stories, tracing it back in one case to the Long Island we all think of, in New York, and another to right here near home. The second Long Island is in Kingsport, Tenn., the home of a 1920s moonshiner named “Old Man Bishop.”
The cocktail has two defining characteristics: one, that when it’s made right it (supposedly) really does taste like iced tea, and two, that it contains a truly absurd amount of alcohol. Almost all recipes will include at least five different liquors combined to create a drink of roughly 22 percent alcohol concentration. Whew.
Now, if you’re Old Man Bishop in the Prohibition era, you’re definitely going to see the benefits of a drink that gets you as intoxicated as possible as discreetly as possible. Mix a little bit of everything you’ve got in the cabinet along with a dose of makeshift mixer, and you’re well on your way to a very drunk place. Whether or not it really tastes like tea…well, things were different back then. After Bishop died, his son Ransom supposedly perfected the mix. If you like the idea of downing the old-school version of this cocktail, here’s Bishop’s recipe:
- 1/2 oz.fresh squeezed lemon
- 1/2 oz. fresh squeezed lime
- 1/2 oz. rum
- 1 oz. vodka
- 1 oz. whiskey
- 1/2 oz. gin
- 1/2 oz. tequila
- 1/2 oz. maple syrup
Mix thoroughly, then layer in 5 oz. of soda water and/or cola. Top off with cubed ice.
Fast forward about 50 years and you reach the second origin story: an innovative bartender working at a club in Long Island, New York. Robert “Rosebud” Butt worked at the Oak Beach Inn and in 1972 entered a contest to create a new cocktail using triple sec. His version is like a classed-up, city-slicker edition of the Prohibition brew, though he’s certain he invented the combination himself.
With drinks, like recipes, you can never quite be sure who started it or where the influences came from, but given that a variation on the Long Island Iced Tea was mentioned as early as 1961 by a Betty Crocker cookbook it’s safe to say old Rosebud got his inspiration from somewhere. Long story short, his new version of the drink became an immediate hit both at the OBI and all over Long Island, and within a decade was known worldwide.
If you ask me, I’ll never trust a Northerner who says they know Jack Daniel’s about iced tea, but if you’re interested in the New York recipe, here’s how Rosebud tells you to make it:
- 2 cups ice cubes
- 1 part vodka
- 1 part gin
- 1 part white rum
- 1 part white tequila
- 1/2 part triple sec
- 1/2 part sour mix
- 1 splash Coke
- Lemon wedges for garnish
Nowadays Mr. Butt maintains a website defending the honor of his invention, and even goes so far as to explicitly denounce the Tennessee origins. Ain’t that a kick in the rear!