On Tuesday, Kingsport “reclaimed” what Visit Kingsport officials say is the Model City’s rightful status as birthplace of the multi-liquored cocktail known as a Long Island Iced Tea.
The claim isn’t really new. But it’s never really been celebrated, either. Until now.
“We are celebrating National Tourism Week,” said Amy Margaret McColl, Visit Kingsport marketing manager. “And we are reclaiming part of our history — as home of the original Long Island Iced Tea, created here in Kingsport on Long Island.”
Long Island, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a designated U.S. National Historic Landmark District, is an island in the Holston River in Kingsport. Located across the main channel of the South Branch of the Holston River from the downtown area, the island is about four miles in length and approximately half a mile wide. Long Island, established in 1760, was an important site for the Cherokee Indians, colonial pioneers and early settlers of the region. Long Island was used as a staging ground for people following the Wilderness Road into Kentucky. It was a sacred council and treaty site among the Cherokee people and was also where Daniel Boone, in 1775, began to clear the Wilderness Road.
And, by the 1920s and America’s fling with prohibition, the island was well known for its colorful characters and bootlegging activities, according to the narrative told Tuesday.
"We feel pretty certain that a lot of people in Kingsport and in the region aren't aware that the Long Island Iced Tea was born here (on Long Island)," said Jud Teague, executive director of Visit Kingsport. "The drink has a long and very interesting history, and we just felt like it was time for us to embrace it and our role in its creation."
There seems to be some basis, however, for both Long Islands — here, and down the road from Manhattan — to claim the birthplace title. Some sources, including years-old reports, point out it’s entirely possible two drink makers could create similar cocktails decades and hundreds of miles apart. Especially given the nuanced differences between the two recipes.
The recipes for the two versions are similar, but the local version includes whiskey, pure maple syrup and lime — while the version known nationally since the days of disco excludes dark liquor and uses triple sec and sour mix with a lemon garnish.
A man named Robert Butt is most often credited with, in the 1970s at Long Island, N.Y., mixing the first of what would become the ever-popular Long Island Iced Tea. Butt maintains his own website where he recounts his own story of how his drink came to be.
Teague said the original Long Island Iced Tea is credited to Charlie “Old Man” Bishop, who created it on Long Island by mixing rum, vodka, whiskey, gin, tequila with a bit of maple syrup. Some 20 years later, his son, Ransom, who was said to have operated a still on Long Island, tweaked his father's original recipe by adding lemon, lime and cola.
"The Bishops were definitely intriguing characters," said Teague. "Despite the regulations at the time they were intent on producing flavorful concoctions, and the Long Island Iced Tea was a product of their creativity. It has certainly stood the test of time."
Two Kingsport businesses, Little Cake and Bellafina Chocolates, have produced specialty items based on the Long Island Iced Tea recipe; Little Cake has created a delicious cupcake, while Bellafina has crafted a special chocolate truffle.
And Visit Kingsport is encouraging other local eateries and watering holes to create signature dishes using some of the flavors from the original Long Island Iced Tea, such as the maple and lime — along with the beverage’s other components. To participate: go to VisitKingsport.com; click the Long Island Iced Tea button; submit your version of the Kingsport Long Island Iced Tea beverage/product.
Today, most of the island lies within the corporate boundaries of Kingsport, and at one time a number of homes were located there. These days, about half of Long Island is now a park, complete with baseball fields and walking trails, while the other half is owned by Eastman Chemical.
The recipe for the original Long Island Iced Tea, as created here by “Old Man” Bishop and his son Ransom in the 1920s-1940s: Squeeze 1/2 a fresh lemon and 1/2 a fresh lime into a 16 oz. glass. Add 1/2 oz. rum, 1/2 oz. gin, 1/2 oz tequila, 1 oz. vodka, 1 oz. whiskey, and ½ oz. maple syrup. Mix, then add 4 oz. of cola.