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Tennessee Claims It Invented The Long Island Iced Tea

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An interstate booze battle broke out this week when a Tennessee city re-staked its claim to have invented the Long Island Iced Tea a half century before LI’s mixologists concocted the cocktail.  

Kingsport, Tenn. tourism officials say a resident there invented the LI iced tea during the Prohibition era and named the drink after their Long Island — a four-mile-long strip of land in the Holston River. The local version of the famously stiff drink is said to have been first mixed at the Oak Beach Inn in the 1970s.

“The drink has a long and very interesting history and we just felt like it was time for us to embrace it and our role in its creation,” said Jud Teague, executive director of Visit Kingsport.

LI’s tourism board balked at the mixed-drink historical revision, noting that while the two beverages share a name, their ingredients are slightly different.

“We use triple sec and they use whisky and maple syrup,” said Maggie LaCasse, director of communications for Discover Long Island. “Long Island’s very proud of our Long Island Iced Tea and we’ll defend it … but the drinks are different.”

Teague said Tennessee’s LI iced tea was invented by Charlie “Old Man” Bishop, who illegally distilled liquor on Kingport’s Long Island. Bishop used rum, vodka, whiskey, gin, tequila with a bit of maple syrup. Two decades later, his son, Ransom, tweaked the recipe by adding lemon, lime and cola, Teague added.

The late Robert “Rosebud” Butt is said to have invented the modern LI iced tea while mixing drinks during a bartending contest at the defunct OBI in 1972. Besides using triple sec instead of whisky, the locally devised and more popular version also includes sour mix.

“Possibly similar concoctions were created elsewhere, at another time,” Butt posted on his website, liicetea.com. “But the Long Island Iced Tea, as we know and love it, is truly a product of Long Island, created by a true Long Islander, at a Genuine Long Island institution with a famous story all its own.”

Of course, the Long Island Iced Tea isn’t the first mixed drink to become topic of a spirited debate surrounding its origin, nor will it be the last. Just like the barroom brawl over who invented the Negroni, the LI iced tea argument is sure to linger.

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