Is The Home Of The Long Island Iced Tea In Tennessee Or New York?

The Long Island iced tea is a classic cocktail that's a mix of vodka, rum, tequila, triple sec, and gin. If you were to order one of these on your next night out, the assumption bartenders might make could be less than flattering. Another assumption that could be made about the drink, given its name, is that it's from Long Island — or was at least born in the New York area. As it turns out, the true home of the Long Island iced tea is a controversial topic. 

Both the states of Tennessee and New York have staked their claim on the beverage, and they're feuding about its true origins. More specifically, a small city called Kingsport in Tennessee asserts that it is the true home of the Long Island iced tea while New York's Long Island is confident that they can tout the drink as their own. Each state brings its own tale of how the Long Island came to be to the table, leaving it up to us to try and get to the bottom of where the drink really came from — but the answer is most likely New York, despite Tennessee's purportedly older recipe.

So who's in the right?

While both states are reaching for the rights to the iconic cocktail, one could have a slight edge over the other. Kingstown's Long Island origin story begins during the Prohibition Era on Long Island — an island in the city's nearby Holston River. The creator of the Long Island iced tea was supposedly a resident of Long Island named Charlie "Old Man" Bishop, whose original recipe consisted of rum, vodka, tequila, gin, whiskey, and maple syrup. According to lore, Ransom, Bishop's son, altered the recipe in the 1940s, adding soda water or cola and lemon or lime juice — which is more akin to the classic Long Island we know today.

On the opposite side of the coin, the state of New York claims that the drink was created at Long Island's Oak Beach Inn in the 1970s by a man named Robert "Rosebud" Butt. Although this beverage was born fifty years later, New Yorkers are confident in their claim because their version contains triple sec — an ingredient in the modern version of the Long Island — and not whiskey like Bishop's drink.

Did they even have vodka in Tennessee during Prohibition?

In an interesting twist to the debate, experts have actually cast doubt on vodka's availability in Tennessee (and the United States more broadly) during the 1920s Prohibition Era. Vodka was all the rage in Russia before the revolution in 1917, but it only migrated to France when Russians — specifically a man named Vladimir Smirnov — fled the country. The movement would have occurred in the 1920s, but it's unlikely that vodka would have made its way to the United States — and to Kingstown — for Bishop to craft Long Island iced teas until the late 1930s, long after Tennessee claims the drink was born. 

As it turns out, the first vodka to be distilled and sold on U.S. soil didn't make an appearance until 1934 in Connecticut — pretty far from Kingstown, if you ask us. Imported vodka from Russia took even longer to make its way around the globe and wasn't readily available in the States until the 1970s when it started to be used for drinks like the classic Moscow mule or spicy Bloody Mary

When it comes down to where the Long Island can trace its roots, it depends on how you look at it. If you're a purist, you might consider Butt the true originator. On the other hand, if you're alright with one or two ingredients being different, Tennessee might win the battle in your mind — if you can excuse the small fib in the ingredients list.