The History of the Long Island Ice Tea

Not every bartender is comfortable with serving up this classic cocktail. A potent blend of spirits topped with cola, it is not afforded the same respect as many of the other classics. Perhaps this is because of its extremely high alcohol content making it a favourite amongst the student community attempting to get as drunk as possible on a strict budget.


Like all the best mixed drinks, however, the Long Island Iced Tea comes with its fair share of stories about where it was first created. One story attributes the cocktail to Robert Butts, a bartender at the Beach Inn, a bar situated in Long Island New York. It is thought that he made up the drink in the summer of 1972 as a competition entry. He had to create a drink that included triple sec. While he acknowledges that similar drink combinations may exist, he is insistent that he invented the cocktail. The ‘Iced Tea’ part of the name came from the tea-like colour and sweet taste of the triple sec included in the ingredients.

The story above is believable enough, however, another story does have a little more credibility to it. A gentleman named only as Old Man Bishop is said to have invented the Long Island Iced Tea in the 1920’s during prohibition, although then the drink was named after himself. Cocktails were extremely popular at this time, as the mixers were used to cover up the smell of alcohol in bars. This one was popular because drinkers could claim to be drinking tea, so long as the prohibition police didn’t get too close!

Old Man Bishop lived in another location called Long Island, but this place was in Tennessee. It was his son, Ransom, that perfected the recipe – some 20 years later, once his father had died. It is his version that has become the cocktail that we begrudgingly love today.

The second story is backed up by the appearance of a very similar drink included in the Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cookbook in 1961 and then again in the American Home All-Purpose Cookbook in 1966. If the drink had been made for the first time in 1972, it would not have been a part of these recipe books.


Variations on the Long Island Ice Tea

Fancy your Long Island Iced Tea with a twist? Try the Long Island Raspberry Iced Tea, which switches out whisky for sour mix and raspberry liqueur – ideal if you prefer your alcohol fruity and sweet.