The idea for this column came to me as I was getting my head smashed in by a large man in a ninja outfit.
Don’t worry; this didn’t happen in real life, but during a video-game tournament at The Hood Bar and Pizza—a suggestion from our Uber driver who said he would also be competing. I noticed several of the competitors were consuming, in pint glasses and pitchers, something that looked like barber-shop comb sanitizer.
“Why would anyone want to drink that?” my companion wondered. “That’s just begging for a hangover!”
“Why do people eat Tide Pods?” I responded.
I, of course, promptly ordered one. It was my old friend, the AMF. If you don’t know what that is, count yourself lucky. For those of you who have gone to college or drank at a dive bar in the last 20 years, you’ve probably seen it. It’s sweet and sour—and strong enough to make you think you can compete in a video-game tournament at 40. It’s also blue … like really blue, the color blue that only kids younger than 12 consider a good color for things that go into one’s mouth. Oh, and the name … well, let’s say it stands for “adios my friend,” but only the “adios” part is true. It’s basically a variation on a Long Island iced tea, and as I drank, I thought about how little written cocktail history is dedicated to these drinks—the maligned, the infamous, and, dare I say, the occasionally fun cocktails that were ubiquitous during the cocktail “dark ages,” and still have a following today.
The Long Island iced tea … is there a more infamous cocktail? I worked for years doing volume bartending, at night clubs and patio bars especially, and my LIIT game was on point, I must say. That may sound like a silly thing to say, but when your line (mob) at the college bar is significantly longer than the lines at other wells, you know something is up. I mean, despite its hangover-inducing reputation, it’s still a cocktail. There is a right way to make it—and many wrong ways.
Let’s break it down: The standard recipe is equal parts vodka, gin, white rum, tequila blanco and triple sec; as to the amount of each … well, as they say with Ti’ Punch, “chacun prépare sa propre mort.” Each prepares their own death.
The balance, theoretically, comes from the varying flavors of the alcohols and the addition of an ounce or two of sour mix (or an ounce of lemon and 3/4 of an ounce of simple syrup, if you’re fancy). Shake that whole mess; strain into a tall glass with ice; add a good splash of cola—and you’re in business.
Other variations, gathered personally over the years, include:
• Long Beach iced tea: Substitute the cola with cranberry.
• AMF: Add blue curaçao instead of triple sec, and lemon-lime soda instead of cola.
• Grateful Dead: Add lemon-lime soda instead of cola; leave out the triple sec, and drizzle blue curaçao and framboise/raspberry liqueur down the sides of the glass (or, preferably, the fish bowl) to create a tie-dyed effect.
• Boston iced tea: Use Kahlua instead of triple sec.
• Tokyo airport: Add Midori instead of triple sec, and lemon-lime soda instead of cola.
This list could go on and on, actually; to avoid diminishing the classiness of this column, I stopped before the “Irish trash can.” (Email me if you actually want that one.) I think you get the point: Not only has the Long Island iced tea become universal; it has become a template on which bored bartenders at questionable establishments still experiment. So who was the genius behind this modern-day classic?
It turns out that is a matter of controversy. Many of the articles online mention the same controversy, between Kingsport, Tenn. (on its own long island) and Long Island, N.Y. A piece from Atlas Obscura sums up the Tennessee story thusly: A bootlegger named Charlie “Old Man” Bishop had a bunch of prohibited hooch lying around and mixed it all together with a little maple syrup. Later, in the 1940s, Ranson Bishop, his son, added the cola and lemon. It’s a cute story; I have no doubt that this bootlegger mixed together his stock with some maple syrup to sweeten and take the edge off of his Prohibition fire water. I don’t even doubt that his son added lemon and cola to his pop’s cocktail. However, there is no way on Earth Old Man Bishop had tequila or vodka, much less triple sec, on his island in Tennessee during Prohibition. So … his maple-syrup cocktail was likely more of an old fashioned, really, and not the drink we know. I am calling this one a myth, albeit a plausible one. Let’s move a few decades ahead …
The story I had been familiar with is the one crediting Bob “Rosebud” Butt for whipping it together for a cocktail contest in 1972, while working at the Oak Beach Inn in Long Island, N.Y. I found this quote on the certainly-not-biased “Long Island Grub” blog:
My concoction was an immediate hit and quickly became the house drink at the Oak Beach Inn. By the mid-1970s, every bar on Long Island was serving up this innocent-looking cocktail, and by the ’80s, it was known the world over.
Who wouldn’t trust a guy from Long Island with the nickname “Rosebud”? Mystery solved!
But … not so fast. Further digging led me to an article on Thrillist in which the author claims the drink showed up in 1961 in Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cook Book and in 1966 in American Home All-Purpose Cookbook by Virginia Habeeb. I spent a lot of time looking for an online or PDF version of either, without luck. The author didn’t mention how he came across that information (leaving a link to Betty Crocker’s website and a modern recipe does not help), and I hit a dead end. These books are available but rather pricey on eBay. If you have a copy of either in your mid-century kitchen and would email me a picture of said recipe, you would be helping with cocktail history, and I will definitely give you a shout-out out in a future column. To be fair, even Butt admits others might have made similar drinks before him, but that his was the one that really took off, and therefore should be considered the original.
Well, it’s high festival season as I write this. If the swarms of young women taking selfies dressed like Billy the Kid are driving you to drink something unwise, the Long Island iced tea is certainly a good option. Stay away from the Grateful Dead, though; it’s guaranteed to make you feel like you went to three days of outdoor concerts the next day.
Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at email@example.com.