Was the Long Island Ice Tea actually invented in Tennessee?
Well, that's what author JS Moore claims in his new book Understanding Apples (Outskirts Press, October 2006).
After a chance encounter with my Long Island Ice Tea article on this website, Moore contacted me by email.
"Long Island Iced Tea isn't from New York at all. It first surfaced in the 1920's in a community called Long Island in Kingsport Tennessee."
Now that's a story I've never heard before. Hmmm.
He goes on to say:
"The inventor of it was Old Man Bishop. He passed the recipe on to his son Ransom - who perfected the drink in the 1940's. This is a fact."
Mr. Moore seems pretty darn sure about this, and he should be as Ransom Bishop was an acquaintance of his grandfather, Judd Moore.
There's no doubt in Moore's mind that the story passed down from grandfather to grandson is true, but is it really?
Like words and phrases in the English language the origins of cocktail recipes can be extremely difficult to trace.
Time, the secrecy of Prohibition and competition for credit blur the truth like frost on a beer mug.
Fortunately for us...
Or is it?
The Long Island Ice Tea is a relative newcomer on the cocktail scene.
Unlike some of the classic cocktails such as the Manhattan or the Martini which date back some 100 years, the Long Island Ice Tea made it's first appearance in the late 1970's.
With such a short history it should be easy to spot the grains of truth among the chaff.
However, Mr. Moore claims the Long Island Ice Tea was invented in the 1920's making the drink significantly older than originally thought and placing it's birth in the middle of...
In an era of secrecy, smuggling, gangsters, shootouts and undercover "dry agents" the illegal consumption of alcohol was kept very low key.
Word of the Long Island Ice Tea, a new and tasty cocktail that looks innocent (an important attribute during Prohibition) may have traveled fast, but during Prohibition no one is going to brag about inventing it. Maybe that's why the Tennessee story hasn't surfaced until now.
Although it was common at that time to disguise cocktails as non-alcoholic drinks, Mr. Moore's claim is the only one I'm aware of that firmly places the invention of Long Island Ice Tea during the prohibition era.
Naturally, this makes it harder to verify the accuracy of Mr. Moore's claim and his is just one of many...
The generally accepted theory is the story about a bartender, either Chris Bendicksen or Robert Butt (depending on your source) who invented the cocktail at the Oak Beach Inn (either OBI South or OBI East, again depending on the source) on Long Island, New York.
Although the OBI story is the one given the most credence I have yet to see any evidence supporting the claim. The inconsistency of the details is not very comforting either.
Was it Chris or Robert?
OBI South or OBI East?
Will we ever know...
I think we're getting close. Moore's claim is based on anecdotal evidence he obtained from someone very close to the source. I have no reason to doubt his story.
Is there any truth then in the Oak Beach Inn story? There probably is. After all, it is the most agreed upon account of the drink's origin, so there must be some basis for this belief. I just wish there was more evidence.
The 70's wasn't that long ago. Certainly not so long ago that the people involved are gone. I wish Chris Bendicksen or Robert Butt would step forward with their story.
Now just because one story is true doesn't mean another isn't. It's quite possible the Long Island Ice Tea was invented in more than one place or time.
For now I'll accept both stories as accurate accounts of the origin of Long Island Ice Tea.
One fresh Lemon half
One fresh Lime half
Squeeze both into a pint glass
½ oz. Rum
1 oz. Vodka
1 oz. Whiskey
½ oz. Gin
½ oz. Tequila
½ oz. Maple Syrup
Mix Thoroughly Then pour in 4 to 5 oz. Soda Water (Coca-Cola, Pepsi, or RC Cola) without stirring.
Suggested listening: Night Life by Ray Price
Long Island Ice Tea - Main page with brief discussion and recipes.
How to Make a Long Island Ice Tea - Instructions and pictures