It’s a deceptively devilish concoction of four unaged spirits including tequila, vodka, rum and gin mixed with lemon and sugar. Then, instead of using real tea, it’s topped off with Coca-Cola for the look of iced tea.
Two gents are given credit to the disco-era classic. The most recent is Robert “Rosebud” Butt (otherwise known as Bob Butt – but what’s in a name, right?). While working at a Long Island nightclub in the 1970s, he created the Long Island Iced Tea for a drink competition that called for triple sec as the challenge ingredient.
He even has a website further cementing his creation claim: “The world famous Long Island Iced Tea was first invented in 1972 by me, Robert Butt, while I was tending bar at the infamous Oak Beach Inn. I participated in a cocktail creating contest. Triple Sec had to be included, and the bottles started flying. My concoction was an immediate hit and quickly became the house drink at the Oak Beach Inn. By the mid-1970s, every bar on Long Island was serving up this innocent-looking cocktail, and by the 1980s it was known the world over.”
However, Butt might be the butt of the joke. More than a decade earlier, a Long Island Iced Tea recipe first appeared in Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cook Book in 1961. And then again, a LIIT recipe reappeared in the 1966 American Home All-Purpose Cookbook. Maybe he was flipping through his mom’s cookbooks for ideas before the cocktail contest?
Laying aside the plagiarism issues, Butt can be lauded for popularizing the drink. In fact, you can even watch him demo the drink in the PBS Inventors series on Youtube.
The other origin story has much more intrigue set in Prohibition times. It’s said Long Island, Tennessee local Charles Bishop, or Old Man Bishop, created the cocktail in the 1920s to fool Prohibition police because it looked like tea but packed a serious punch (very convenient if you only had time for one drink before the police raided your bar). His recipe included maple syrup. Still today, New York and Tennessee battle out LIIT’s birthplace.
And although many high-end bars and restaurants flat out refuse a guest’s request for the cocktail (to avoid inebriated patrons or because of its lowbrow frat status), the Long Island Iced Tea is making a comeback. In January, The New York Times predicted that retro cocktails, like the LIIT and Blue Lagoon, would trend in 2022.
And barkeeps listened. Bless the craft cocktail movement – it embraces and elevates, even the uncool. For example, Bonnie’s in Brooklyn, NY serves a large-format LIIT in a teapot (and yes – and actually uses tea), Halcyon in Austin, TX makes theirs with coffee, and Jeffrey Morgenthaler has been working to redeem the drink for years in Portland.
Most bartenders agree, keep the four spirits to a half ounce pour, skip the store bought sour mix (use fresh squeezed lemon juice instead) and you’ll have a well-balanced, refreshing sipper that won’t knock you off your feet.
Here’s Morgenthaler’s recipe to try now:
Long Island Iced Tea
- 1/2 oz gin
- 1/2 oz vodka
- 1/2 oz rum
- 1/2 oz tequila
- 1/2 oz triple sec
- 3/4 oz lemon
- 2 tsp simple syrup
- 3/4 oz cola
Preparation: Add everything but the cola to a shaker with ice and shake to chill. Strain into a Collins glass over fresh crushed ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.