The Real Long Island Iced Tea Recipe

Two Long Island Iced Teas on wood table next to lemon wedges and spoon
Long Island Iced Tea / Getty

It’s hard to know where and when the Long Island Iced Tea, perhaps one of the most infamous cocktails in modern times, was truly invented.

The city of Kingsport, Tennessee has claimed it as their own, with tourism officials stating it was created by moonshine distiller Charlie “Old Man” Bishop during the Prohibition era of the 1920s, and named after a nearby island in the Holston River. This original version was said to include modern staples like vodka, gin, rum and tequila but with the addition whiskey and maple syrup.  

However, in an escalation of local tourism board public relations wars, New York’s Long Island disputed this account, claiming the drink was created much later in the 1970s by Robert “Rosebud” Butt, then a bartender at Jones Beach’s now-defunct Oak Beach Inn. That version hews closer to the Long Island Iced Tea made worldwide today, including triple sec and cola while omitting brown spirits.

What’s In a Long Island Iced Tea?

A Long Island Iced Tea consists of vodka, gin, tequila, white rum, triple sec, lemon juice, simple syrup and cola. Though the number of liquors in this cocktail can seem staggering, one of the reasons for its enduring popularity is that it’s fairly uncomplicated to make. As an old bartender shorthand goes, just use all your clear base spirits plus triple sec, add in lemon juice and simple syrup, then top with cola.

How to Make Simple Syrup

To bust one myth, when made to spec, a Long Island Iced Tea is not boozier than most other standard cocktails. Four liquors are used but in half-ounce pours, meaning that added all together they comprise a full 2 ounces, which tends to be the standard amount for most single-spirit cocktails. Triple sec is a lower-proofed liqueur commonly used as a sweetening agent, and altogether this makes your Long Island Iced Tea akin to a standard margarita, sidecar or even Cosmo in the alcohol-by-volume department.

The most notable achievement of the Long Island Iced Tea is that for a cocktail that sounds disgusting on paper—vodka, gin, tequila and rum in the same glass—it actually comes together in a deceptively easy-drinking package. Perhaps this is why the perception of its strength persists, not because of the overall alcohol content of the drink, but how quickly and easily they can be chugged.

How to Make a Long Island Iced Tea

Time/Servings
Total Time 1 min.
Serving Size 1
Ingredients
½ ounce vodka
½ ounce gin
½ ounce tequila
½ ounce white rum
½ ounce triple sec
½ ounce simple syrup
¾ ounce lemon juice
Cola, to top
Lemon wedge, for garnish

Technique #1: Like a Pro

Combine everything except cola and garnish in shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously until well chilled, 15–20 seconds. Strain into Collins glass over fresh ice. Fill with cola to top. Garnish with lemon wedge.

Technique #2: Like a Local

Combine all ingredients except garnish in a Collins glass. Give a few swirls with a straw and garnish if you want, or just drink.

Published on June 4, 2022