The Story Behind the Long Island Iced Tea

Long Island Iced Tea
Long Island Iced Tea | © Maxime Guilbot / Flickr
Julia Goicochea

Everyone who’s woken up with an achy head and upset stomach can agree that Long Island Iced Teas are as dangerous as they are delicious. However, that’s just about the only thing they can agree on. Read on to discover the unconfirmed, often-disputed origin stories of a world-(in)famous cocktail.

Tequila, vodka, triple sec, gin, and rum are dangerous enough on their own, yet someone had the idea to combine them along with a splash of cola and start sipping—a concoction that has come to be known as the Long Island Iced Tea, so called for its resemblance to its sober namesake drink. With just a small amount of soda as a mixer, the Long Island Iced Tea boasts a whopping 22% alcohol concentration, making it famous (or, perhaps, infamous) amongst liquor lovers everywhere. So, who is to thank—or blame—for this killer cocktail? It depends on who’s telling the story.

Long Island Iced Tea

When fans of 1920s noir tell the tale, the drink is attributed to one Old Man Bishop, a native of a Kingsport, Tennessee community known as Long Island. During the country’s Prohibition era, when a constitutional amendment banned the sale, consumption, and production of alcoholic drinks from 1920 to 1933, resourceful Americans tried their hands at cocktail-crafting. It was during this period when Bishop allegedly combined tequila, vodka, gin, rum, whiskey, and maple syrup and, in a stroke of creativity, called his creation the “Old Man Bishop.”

Repeal of Prohibition

Despite being unsubstantiated, its believability has helped this story to endure. For example, the drink’s disguise as a commonplace sober beverage would have come in handy during Prohibition. Some people even argue that the cocktail’s unusually high alcohol content could have been a product of Bishop’s time—because booze was less free-flowing then, drinks were required to be stronger. Legend has it that Bishop passed the recipe down to his son Ransom, who refined it to the version widely served today, during the 1940s.

Iced Tea

Another origin story holds that the drink wasn’t invented until the 1970s, making it the youngest widely known cocktail at only 45 years old. In this version, a bartender from Long Island, New York, named Robert Butt created the Long Island Iced Tea during a 1972 cocktail-crafting competition. The story’s source? None other than Butt himself. The former Oak Beach Inn bartender claims to have invented the drink as his entry in a contest to create an original cocktail featuring triple sec. Butt asserts that his creation was an instant success, with cocktail lovers around the world enjoying it since the 1980s.

In truth, it isn’t important which version you subscribe to; after one or two Long Island Iced Teas, you likely won’t remember the drink’s origin story anyway.

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.?>

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Culture Trip Spring Sale

Save up to $1,656 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article