There are several combinations of alcohol that cause nearly every bartender to question the age and intellect of those who ordered it. Belvedere and Sprite is a good one (the whole point of top-shelf vodka is to appreciate its flavor). “The cheapest thing you have on draught” is a personal favorite. And anything with Red Bull (vodka Red Bull, whiskey Red Bull, Jager-bombs) makes me cringe. (They outlawed Four Loko because of the crazy shit that happened when people combined alcohol and large amounts of caffeine, remember?)
But nothing makes a bartender roll their eyes and ask for your birth certificate plus four forms of ID faster than a Long Island Iced Tea.
At anywhere between 2.5 and 4 ounces of liquor, the Long Island is exactly what vodka, gin, rum, tequila, triple sec and a splash of lemon and Coke sounds like: A one-way ticket to blackout city. Ordering one says, “I prefer to get drunk as quickly as possible without tasting any alcohol.”
For instance, I have a good friend who’s a powerhouse of a woman — i.e., she’s a doctor; she plays some serious contact sports; she takes shit from no one — but she doesn’t drink a lot or particularly like the taste of alcohol. From time to time, though, she does like to get drunk. One New Year’s Eve I found her at the end of the bar, looking much worse for wear. “Babe, you doing okay?” I asked.
“I fucked up,” she said. “I shouldn’t have had three.”
“Three of what?” I asked, concerned. I had the rare NYE off. So I’d been dancing, not monitoring her beverage intake.
“Three Long Islands — three is too many.”
Just thinking about drinking three Long Island Iced Teas makes me want to lay down on the floor and die: To make just one Long Island, you essentially take every bottle on the first row of the well, hold them for a two count over a Collins glass, add ice and fill whatever little room might be left with lemon juice and a splash of Coke. (I work with guys who can make a Long Island in one pour, three bottles in each hand. Alas, my mitts are too small.)
Kinda obviously — and as it turns out, naively — I’ve always taken for granted that this glass of insta-drunk hails from Long Island, New York, because, well, Long Island, New York, where a native blogger describes the weekend habits of the locals thusly:
Men: Your choice of drink is either Miller Lite or Bud Light. Find any girl who is dancing, walk up behind her and shove your crotch into her backside. If she keeps dancing, your night is a success. If she stops or moves away, look for long hair and repeat until you pass out.
Women: Your choice of drink is either Miller Lite or Bud Light. Dance in a circle with your girlfriends, and when you feel a crotch make contact, look at your girlfriend’s face to see if he’s attractive or not. She will determine whether you need to detach from this stranger in a cloud of cologne, or marry him. Have an exit strategy.
It never even occurred to me then that there are multiple Long Islands in the U.S. — one in Kansas (pop. 134); one in Maine (established in 1933 after seceding from the other Portland); and one in Tennessee, (half park, half Tennessee Eastman Chemical Company) — let alone that somewhere other than the birthplace of Flavor Flav and Lindsay Lohan would want to lay claim to a beverage as stiff and toxic as the Long Island Iced Tea.
And yet, there’s currently a major throwdown taking place between Long Island, New York, and Long Island, Tennessee (well, okay, Kingston, Tennessee, the neighboring town), as to which can lay claim as the originator of the Long Island Iced Tea.
The Long Island Iced Tea of the South, according J.S. Moore’s Understanding Apples, a brief history of Kingsport and Long Island, was originally concocted by a local bootlegger named Charles “Old Man” Bishop during Prohibition, and later perfected by Bishop’s son, Ransom, in the 1940s. About Ransom, Moore writes:
“No one would have suspected a burned-out mercantile man like Ransom to be making home brew. But truth be told, he was the cream of the crop on Long Island… Ransom’s father was also a pretty smart feller, and also a bootlegger, and it is believed his father invented a certain drink, passed the recipe on to his son, and Ransom perfected the cocktail.”
The Bishop recipe combines vodka, gin, rum and tequila (all the same liquors as the Northern version), as well as whiskey and maple syrup, with fresh lemon juice and a tiny bit of cola.
Speaking of the Northern version, according to local Yankee legend, Robert “Rosebud” Butt, a local bartender, created the gin, vodka, tequila, rum, triple sec, Coke and lemon concoction for a cocktail competition at the Oak Beach Inn in the Hamptons some 30 years later in 1972. It seems the Oak Beach Inn had a surplus of triple sec, and to winnow away at its bulk, it held a competition for bartenders to see who could make the best drink using the stuff. Butt won with what’s now considered the official Long Island Iced Tea (everywhere outside of Tennessee, that is).
And for nearly half a century, that was that. But in May, Kingston’s Tourism Board launched a campaign touting Kingston as the true birthplace of the Long Island. Long Island, New York, of course, took notice, with Butch Yamali, owner of Long Island, New York’s Hudson’s on the Mile, sending out a press release challenging Kingston to a duel. “Not since the ‘Battle of Long Island’ in the Revolutionary War has Long Island’s honor been so challenged,” it read. “We on Long Island celebrate our beaches, our accents, and most of all, our booze.”
Admittedly, there are only so many combinations of alcohol to make before you — or someone else — repeats a house-named recipe, especially in the pre-internet, pre-cocktail enthusiast America of the 1940s and 1970s. And changing bits and pieces of a cocktail to intentionally riff on a well-known classic is completely fair game. In fact, it’s how we got some of today’s contemporary classics like the Naked and Famous (Joaquín Simó, Death&Co, 2011), a twist on the Paper Plane (Sam Ross, The Violet Hour, 2007). The two drinks are what we call “sister cocktails,” calling for equal proportions of overlapping ingredients: You can describe a Naked and Famous as a mezcal spin on the bourbon-based Paper Plane.
But when it happens, and credit isn’t given where credit is due, oh boy, hell hath no fury like a bartender scorned. Case in point, the rebuttal letter to Yamali from the Kingsport Tourism Board:
“We certainly understand you wanting to support your fella ‘Rosebud’ and his drink, which we’re sure is decent but it can’t possibly hold a candle to the original, crafted on Kingsport’s Long Island during Prohibition — some 50 years BEFORE y’all ever thought about it. As they say, desperate times calls for desperate measures and thanks to the Bishops’ recipe the world got one heck of a gift in the form of the original Long Island Iced Tea.
“Now, we all know y’all have taken exception to our claim and we’re sorry if we’ve ruffled any feathers. But in Tennessee, where the mountains are Smoky, our traditions are strong, and the world moves a little slower, there’s never been any question about heritage when it comes to alcoholic beverages.
“Moonshine, home brew and Tennessee whiskey were born in these parts and we’re darn proud of that. We’ve always been trailblazers here in Kingsport — heck, Daniel Boone himself started clearing the Wilderness Trail here, no doubt enjoying a few of our local potions along the way.
“In your letter, you mentioned the South trying to take over your territory… goodness, we’d never try to do anything like that. Why, we’re known for our hospitality and weather, which is why so many of the folks from your neck of the woods end up moving here. But we’re happy to have y’all, even though you’re laying claim to what’s ours — and them’s fighting words.”
The fight is ongoing — a marketing coup as much as it is a battle for honor — with the first contest having taken place last week in Long Island, New York (with the North victorious), and the next scheduled for next week during Kingsport’s annual Fun Fest (where, I’m guessing, the South will be victorious).
No matter who wins in the end, though — or which version you ask me to make — it’s still a dubious accomplishment. Because it’s impossible for the ground beneath the man who thought to mix together vodka, gin, rum and tequila in a single drink to be hallowed. The only thing worse would be if it were topped with Red Bull instead of Coke.