View OED entry

Long Island iced tea n. before 1981

Bill Mullins provided a verifiable example of ‘Long Island ice tea’ from 1978.

The creation of this potent cocktail is widely attributed to bartender Robert C. Butts, who entered the recipe in a contest at the Oak Beach Inn nightclub on Long Island, New York, in the early 1970s, according to a book by the nightclub’s owner at the time:

The OBI [Oak Beach Inn] sponsored a ‘New Drinks’ contest in 1973, one in which Triple Sec had to be an ingredient.  Bobby ‘Rosebud’ Butts, a bartender, presented the prize-winning concoction.

1 part rum
1 part vodka
1 part gin
1 part tequila
1 part of Triple sec
splashes of sour mix and coke

Butts won a trip for two to the grand Miami Fountainebleu Hotel for creating the now-famous ‘Long Island Iced tea’ at the OBI East!

1998 Robert W. Matherson Scandal at Oak Beach Inn xxii., p. 212

Photo of Oak Beach Inn by Lucius Madeo, via Wikipedia

When researching the origins of the drink, OED researchers contacted the innovative barman; he confirmed the story, but didn’t have any documentation of the name that we could include in our entry for Long Island iced tea, which was published last year. The earliest evidence we were able to find for the name of the drink (which may or may not have the same origin as the recipe) doesn’t appear until the early 1980s. The entry records an example from 1982, but our researchers have since discovered a slightly earlier one from 1981:

All summer, people had been downing Long Island Iced Tea, and some unwary patrons who simply asked for ‘iced tea’ and got the L.I. version, told sad tales in tones that suggested they had staggered through the city afterwards.

1981 Hartford (Connecticut) Courant  15 Oct., p. C1/5

This leaves a gap of eight years between the first evidence of the name and the drink’s reputed invention in a Long Island nightspot. Can you help us find earlier evidence of Long Island iced tea?

Posted by OED_Editor on 25 April 2013 10.01
Comments: 5

  • Bill Mullins

    From the Baton Rouge LA _Advocate_ 4 July 1978, p 10-D, an adv. for Yesterday’s Lounge includes
    “Long Island Ice Tea (4 full shots) . . . . $3.00”

  • Bryn_OED

    Not the full term being sought, however, Texas Monthly, June 1978, p.18 contains an advert, for an Austin outlet, that might come close:

    “Shenanigans, 414 Barton Springs Rd …. Try the Long Island Tea drink ….”

    • Bryn_OED

      This is attributed to “Best & Worst”, in D magazine, January 1980, with no Triple Sec in the recipe:

      BEST: Long Island Tea at the Stoneleigh P. on Maple. This is a deceptive little devil. Bartender Michael Cook’s recipe: Equal parts (approximately 3/4 oz. of each) vodka, rum, gin, and tequila are mixed with a shot of Coca-Cola, a splash of Sweet & Sour, a splash of orange juice, and a dash of Rose’s lime juice. The result, at $2. 50 a pop, is served on the rocks in a large tumbler, and looks very much like a harmless glass of iced tea. What’s more, the blend is quite mild to the taste. But after two or three of these you will be rich, intelligent, and powerful, and will possess a fine singing voice.
      WORST: Alice in Wonderland at Andrew’s on McKinney. A blend of, get this, tequila, Tia Maria, and Grand Marnier. Now this is actually a tasty little number and a tasteful establishment in which to drink it. But, guaranteed, when you wake up the next morning, you’ll wish you’d died in your sleep.”

  • Jason Scott Moore

    The earlier source is found in the city of Kingsport, Tennessee from the community of Long Island where Charles Bishop began making various mixtures disguised at his establishment in the 1920’s His son Ransom Bishop carried on the tradition of his father in the late 30s and early 1940’s. The recipe uses Maple syrup is the big difference, but the cocktail is equally as intoxicating as the current pop culture phenomenon. Understanding Apples by JS Moore printed the story in 2006, but I grew up hearing my Papaw Judd and his associates always talking about Ransom’s Tea from the early Island days here in Kingsport.
    Ransom has children still living that are all 60+. Sam Bishop and Georgia Bishop Quillen can both confirm. There father’s nickname was Molehead. He was an ornery cuss but a good fella overall.

  • Jason Scott Moore