The battle of the Long Island iced teas

A drink unites Freeport with Tennessee


Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” blared from the speakers of Hudson’s on the Mile on June 27 after a panel of blindfolded judges ruled that Long Island’s version of the famed Long Island iced tea was superior to the Kingsport, Tenn., recipe.

“I thought it was pure taste,” said Matt Talt, of Merrick, one of the judges of the Battle of the Tea. “The Long Island one was more refreshing.”

The Long Island version of the drink contains vodka, rum, gin, tequila, triple sec and cola. Ingredients are shaken together. Kingsport’s variation includes vodka, rum, gin, tequila, whiskey, maple syrup, lemon and lime juice, and cola. It is stirred.

To decide which iced-tea-in-name-only was the true one, Talt and four other judges from across the Island conducted a taste test blindfolded. Hudson’s bartenders made the Long Island version, while bartenders from East Coast Wings used the Kings-port recipe. Hundreds of local folks turned out to watch a live-stream of the competition.

The judges, local elected leaders and residents, pushed their preferred drinks to the front of the table at which they sat, and the crowd watched as they each chose the lighter-colored drink — that is, the Long Island version. Baldwinite Rosa Corrao asked whether she could continue drinking it.

After the judges removed their blindfolds, Town of Hempstead Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney proclaimed, “I’m happy to announce that it’s unanimous that Long Island wins the best Long Island iced tea.”

Hudson’s on the Mile received a “Best Long Island Iced Tea” belt. The Tennessee bartenders and officials had to clean Hudson’s bar and restrooms, and East Coast Wings had to raise the New York state flag in front of its bar, as per the terms agreed to when Hudson’s owner Butch Yamali challenged Kingsport to the Battle of the Tea.

The challenge was in response to a nationwide news release sent out by the Kingsport Tourism Bureau and the City of Kingsport, claiming that Kingsport was the drink’s original home. According to the release, Charles “Old Man” Bishop, a well-known illegal liquor distributor who lived on Kingsport’s Long Island, first created the drink in the 1920s. But Yamali disputed that claim, saying that Robert “Rosebud” Butt, who owned the Oak Beach Inn in Babylon, invented the drink in 1972.

“We know that Long Island is Long Island. We’re resilient. We made it through hurricanes and storms, and nobody’s going to beat us, especially in Freeport,” Yamali said.

He was proven right, though former Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips said before the competition that no matter who won, both states would be victorious. “When you get down to it, it’s all about the memories that you make and the people you meet,” Phillips said. “This is a good way to develop a relationship with our friends in New York.”

Shane Winegar, a Tennessee bartender, said he enjoyed the competition. “There was a great group of bartenders up here,” he said. “They have a great drink, we have a great drink. We’ll have a different experience when we go to Kingsport in July.”

That’s right: The bartenders will once again face off at another blind taste test on July 13 in Kingsport, at the town’s annual Fun Fest celebration.