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In Long Island iced tea rematch, Tennessee recipe bests LI 

A panel of judges sample two versions of

A panel of judges sample two versions of Long Island iced teas created by bartenders from LI's Freeport and Kingsport, Tennessee, on Friday at Riverfront Seafood Company in Kingsport.  Credit: The Highroad Agency

In the bitter war of beverages, there are no winners — only another round of Long Island iced teas.

On Friday, bartenders from Freeport’s Nautical Mile competed against a group from Tennessee to settle an ongoing dispute about the origins of Long Island iced tea and which state’s recipe is supreme. While New York won the first matchup last month, team Tennessee claimed victory in the rematch.

“Even when they flipped us up in New York, this was fun,” said Lara Potter, associate executive director of Visit Kingsport. “But it sure does feel good to be on your own turf.”

At Riverfront Seafood Company in Kingsport, Tennessee, the two teams of bartenders prepared their signature recipes in a flurry of cocktail shakers for a panel of five blindfolded judges. Meanwhile, the crowd belted out the lyrics to the bluegrass song “Rocky Top,” a popular ode to the Tennessee hills.

One by one, the judges sipped the cocktails and after a moment of deliberation, handed down a unanimous verdict in favor of Kingsport.

“They won in their town,” said Butch Yamali, owner of Hudsons on the Mile, the Freeport bar representing New York. “They used the taste of bourbon. That’s a heavy taste and they like that down there.”

Hudsons bartenders Elias Gomez and Freddy Cardenas followed a recipe designed to be lighter on the tongue and more citrusy in flavor. It won in New York and Yamali said he’d been confident it would win again, even without the home turf advantage.

But Kingsport residents like their bourbon and their iced tea with a touch of maple syrup, as in the recipe Shane Winegar and Randy Ashens used for team Tennessee.

The playful dispute began in May, when Kingsport’s tourism board publicly disputed the origins of the classic Long Island iced tea.

Officials argued the drink was invented by bootlegger named Charles Bishop in Long Island, Tennessee, during prohibition. But in New York, Robert Butt, a bartender at the Oak Beach Inn, claimed to have invented the drink in 1972.

The dispute is complicated by regional differences in the drink’s recipe, though the main elements of vodka, gin, rum, tequila, cola and lemon are the same. The Tennessee recipe includes a dash of maple syrup while Butt’s New York recipe uses triple sec.

On June 27, the first of two duels for bragging rights took place at Hudsons on the Mile in Freeport. The panel of judges gave the win to Team New York, saying Tennessee’s inclusion of a half ounce of maple syrup made for a drink that was “too thick,” “too strong” and too sweet.

“Maple syrup is for pancakes, not for drinking,” Yamali said.

But according to the judges on Friday, all’s fair in love and namesake drink recipes — even the maple syrup.

“It all comes down to whose tasting. Up there, those judges were hometowners and these people were our hometown people,” Potter said. “Everyone has their tastes and they like what they like.”

As the losers of Friday’s contest, Gomez and Cardenas scrubbed a toilet at the bar.

But perhaps the tie won’t last long. Yamali joked that he and his staff were open to a tie breaker, but only if it could take place somewhere truly neutral.

“Maybe Hawaii,” he said.

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