Kingsport reclaims title of “Home of Long Island Iced Tea”


On the Long Island of the Holston River, 101 years ago, a town was founded. Now, that town has reclaimed its prodigal drink.

The Long Island Iced Tea, which has long been a favorite among mixed drinks, was actually first produced on the Long Island in Kingsport during the 1920s. Nearly a century later, Kingsport is reclaiming its rightful place in history as the home of the original Long Island Iced Tea.

“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.”

For those who doubt the claim, look no further than the Mr. Boston Official Bartender Guide, the Bible of bartenders for more than 75 years. (Image courtesy Scott Robertson)

The drink came into existence in the 1920s during Prohibition in the United States when Charlie “Old Man” Bishop invented the concoction while living on Long Island in Kingsport.

In those days, the island was well known for its colorful characters and bootlegging activities. Bishop, known as an illegal liquor distiller, created what is now known as Long Island Iced Tea 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.

“Bellafina Chocolates is excited to be a part of telling the world about Kingsport’s rich and varied heritage,” said “Brenda Barnicki, Founder and President of Bellafina Chocolates LLC.  “The Kingsport community has been incredibly supportive in growing our ‘100% of profits to charity’ social enterprise and we love being a part of introducing others to this special place we call home. And who knew that Long Island Iced Tea would be so amazing in a chocolate truffle?”

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. 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.

There have been several varieties of the Long Island Iced Tea drink created throughout history – and there have been others laying claim to its invention – particularly those who like to believe it was born in Long Island, N.Y. But as for for Kingsport, the city will take Mr. Boston’s word.

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