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LI bartenders beat Tennessee in Long Island iced tea duel

Kingsport, Tennessee, officials said bootlegger Charles Bishop came up with the drink 50 years before an Oak Beach Inn bartender claims to have done so.

In a promotional video released Monday, an actor playing Ransom Bishop, the son of the legendary Tennessee bootlegger Charles Bishop, announced that bartenders were heading “up North to defend our honor.” (Credit: YouTube / The HIgh Road Agency)

It was unanimous.

After weeks of playful jabs, two bartenders from Freeport bested two of their peers from Kingsport, Tennessee, in a showdown Wednesday to see who could create the better Long Island iced tea.

In a blind taste test, five judges ruled that Long Island’s version of the drink was better.

“We showed these people from Tennessee how to get it done,” said one of the winning bartenders, Elias Gomez, who works at Hudsons on the Mile.

In May, Kingsport’s tourism board claimed that the Long Island iced tea was not invented on Long Island, but rather in Long Island, Tennessee, during Prohibition. City officials said bootlegger Charles Bishop came up with the concoction 50 years before Robert Butt, a bartender at the Oak Beach Inn, claims to have concocted the same drink.

That upset some bartenders in Freeport, who decided to challenge the city for bragging rights to the cocktail.  

The duel went down Wednesday at Hudsons on the Mile in Freeport.

"We're here to defend our honor, of course," said Lara Potter, associate executive director of Kingsport's tourism board. "We're reclaiming our history and letting everyone in Long Island, New York, know that we are the home of the original Long Island iced tea recipe."

Potter and other representatives from Kingsport, including one of the city’s former mayors, made the long trip up north to watch their two bartenders face off against the team from Hudsons on the Mile. 

In front of a cheering crowd, Gomez and teammate Freddy Cardenas quickly sloshed five cocktails together, smiling as they violently shook the drinks in unison. Meanwhile, Kingsport’s bartenders, Shane Winegar and Randy Ashens, took their time.  

“We do things a little slower in the South,” Ashens said, before pouring a half ounce of maple syrup into each glass.

Hempstead Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, who emceed the contest, helped serve the drinks to the five blindfolded judges, who  included Hempstead Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito.

D’Esposito sipped both drinks slowly, swishing the cocktail around in his mouth before making his choice. But Rosa Corrao, 28, of Baldwin, took swigs from both glasses and knew immediately which one she preferred.

“It was the perfect drink for summertime – light and fresh — where the other one was very thick and way too strong,” Corrao said. 

The Long Island, Tennessee, version of the drink includes maple syrup, which didn't sit well with some judges who thought it made the cocktail too sweet. The cocktail said to be created by Butt in 1972 has a little more of a kick and includes triple sec.

Cardenas insists his addition of fresh-squeezed lemonade gave their cocktail the edge.

After the five judges made their decision, the crowd at the bar let out a cheer. As Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” played, D’Esposito and Hudsons on the Mile owner, Butch Yamali, removed a Tennessee state flag from in front of the bar. (Had the Tennessee team won, the bar would have had to fly the flag.)

The Southerners will have a chance to redeem themselves on July 13, when round two will be held on their home turf in Kingsport.

“These guys got a good drink here, but I think we’ll see a different outcome when we go down to Kingsport in July,” Winegar said.

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