26 Booze Experts on the One Bottle They’d Want If Stranded on a Desert Island

Do you opt for quality, utility or sentimentality?

June 19, 2019 9:31 am
Cast Away
(Photo: Twentieth Century Fox)

“What record would you want if you were stuck on a deserted island?”

Terrible question. Whatever your answer, that’d get tiresome real fast. (Even we can only handle so much Ed Sheeran. We’re all Sherrios here, right?).

Now, marooned with a single bottle of booze … that’s a query that requires some careful thought. So we sought out 26 of our favorite bartenders and booze-industry professionals and asked ‘em: If you were stranded on a desert island, what’s the one bottle of booze you’d like to accompany you?

And, even better, what’s the one bottle you’d absolutely dread to see wash up on shore?

(Note: Some of these are easy to find. Some, not so much. A few places we like to find rare spirits are Wine Searcher and The Whisky Exchange.)

Caol Ila 18

“For very sentimental reasons: It’s what got me into booze writing. When I was a 22-year-old intern, my editor assigned me a Whiskey 101 story. I met the Johnnie Walker brand ambassador for San Francisco at Nihon (great whiskey bar). The first thing he ordered was Caol Ila 18. He handed it to me and said ‘bacon and barbecue.’ I tasted it, my mind was blown, and it’s still my favorite Scotch to this day. — Jason Horn, spirits writer

Catoctin Creek Rye Whiskey

“From Purcellville, VA, bottle #901. It’s personal. I picked the barrel, bottled it, slightly burnt my hand sealing it (I needed practice). Sipping this alone on an island would remind me of the work we did together and I’d feel at home again.” — John Onsa, Beverage and Food Director of Brim House and The Heights, Renaissance Hotel (Toledo, OH)

Brian Miller of The Polynesian, already in the desert island mood (Photo: The Polynesian)

Zafra 30 Year

“To be honest, just about any rum would do. But I do dig me some Zafra 30-year, or maybe some Foursquare 2007. Ideally, I’d hope Richard Seale and The Professor from Gilligan’s Island would wash-up on shore. One could teach me how to distill, and the other could build a still out of coconuts.” — Brian Miller, The Polynesian

A well distilled vodka

“I would certainly find citrus somewhere, and if I am attacked by island animals, I can treat a wound!” — Courtney Hamblin, Beverage Operations Manager of JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. LIVE

Tio Pepe Palomino Fino

“While it isn’t quite spirits, it has spirit in it. It’s light enough not to drain one in the hot tropical sun, but it packs a ton of flavor and a decent punch to enable a great day drinking session.” — Sam Slaughter, spirits writer and author of “Are You Afraid of the Dark Rum?”

El Tesoro Blanco

“A most delicious agave-forward tequila, with beautiful fruity, peppery and grassy notes. Easy to drink and always gives me the lift I need.” — Cari Hah, Bar Manager at Big Bar (Los Angeles)

Bombay Sapphire

“My go-to booze. I would probably finish it off within a couple of days, but then again, I live my life my way, might as well go out my way, too. I like to keep things consistent.” — Grant G. Gedemer, Corporate Director of Food & Beverage for The Godfrey Hotel Chicago


“It’s a bitter, herbal French aperitif that I could drink neat, on the rocks, with tonic, or even just by hollowing out a pineapple and sipping with a bamboo straw. Sounds like a vacation.” — Marshall Minaya, Beverage director at Valerie (NYC)

Glen Spey 21

“Easily one of the best whiskeys I have ever tasted, expressive and nuanced in a way that most spirits can only ever dream of being, with a finish that goes on forever. It’s also cask-strength whisky, so it will go a little bit longer on the island.” — Dave Fisher, Beverage Director of Gran Tivoli and Peppi’s Cellar (NYC)

Appleton 12

“I could drink this neat, on the rocks, on a rock pulled out of the ocean that surrounds the paradise I am trapped on, or mixed with milk from all of the coconuts that cover my island home. Such a delicious and versatile rum.” — Nicholas Bennett, Beverage Director, Cedric’s at The Shed (NYC)


“I’d want a stellar bottle of blanco tequila. Beyond just being absolutely delicious, tequila has enough flavor to keep you interested and drinking it on its own, and won’t absolutely destroy you with palate fatigue the way something more aggressive can.” — Andrew Volk, owner of Portland Hunt + Alpine Club & Little Giant (Portland, ME)

Amaro Nonino

“There are so many applications for it. It’s perfect in the summer because of the orange flavors and its lightness, but it’s also perfect for the wintertime because there’s a warming effect and a nice bitterness to it.” — Fernando Bambaren, Bar Manager at Virtu Honest Craft (Scottsdale, AZ)

Brooklyn Gin

“Very refreshing, with hints of florals, and can easily be infused with whatever plants I might find. Plus, I like that it would remind me of home.” — Tony Edgerton, Beverage Director of Upright

Don Julio 1942

“If I’m taking my last sips, let it be something absolutely delicious. I would also want to savor it so it lasts longer. Sipping on Don Julio 1942, even in the heat, sounds good to me.” — Cody Goldstein, Beverage Consultant to The Flying Cock (NYC)



“This is a survival situation. I’m choosing the same bottle Bear Grylls would. Pampero is the perfect shape to use as a magnifier to start a fire, it comes with a leather bag to capture rainwater, and it comes with a leather strap I could use for fishing. Also, it’s great rum, so I would feel like Jack Sparrow.” — Josh Murski, lead bartender at Bazaar by José Andrés at SLS Beverly Hills (Beverly Hills, CA)

On the Rocks Aviation

“Since I probably won’t have mixers or barware, I’d love to have a bottle of The Aviation batched cocktail. Nothing says desert island and ready to drink like a touch of cherry and lemon.” — Raffaello Vancouten, co-owner of Midnights (Brooklyn, NY)

Lillet Rose

“Perfect easy drinking for a tropical island.” — Claire Bertin-Lang, CBL Liquid Consulting

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength

“I have no survival skills, which means that my days would be numbered. In that case, I’m going out with something I love. It’s great to sip neat.” — Jeremy Downer, beverage consultant at Fish Cheeks

Black Maple Hill 23-Year-Old Rye

“I’ve had the Black Maple Hill 23-Year Rye only one other time in life and I drank the bottle with a friend in one sitting. It was so bloody good I have another bottle that I’ve never opened … I guess until I’m on that island.” — Kenneth McCoy, Chief Creative Officer of The Rum House and Ward III

Hapsburg Premium

“This is a high-proof (179 proof) absinthe from the Czech Republic. It can be used as a fire starter, to treat any wounds and to dilute any seawater I’d have to drink. At some dilution level, it probably tastes pretty good, too.” — Scott Yeates, co-founder of Mythology Distillery (Denver)

Maison Ferrand

“They have a special barrel of 1989 Trinidad & Tobago in their warehouse. It’s probably the most incredible liquid I’ve ever tasted.” — Pamela Wiznitzer, mixologist at The Lookup (NYC)

1970 Lemorton Grand Vieux Calvados Domfrontais

“I love Calvados. And if it’s going to be whatever I want, I’m going boogie with this expression. The blend of apple, pear and age is absolutely delicious.” — Eryn Reece, Head Bartender at Banzarbar (NYC)

Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve Bourbon

“Ideally on the rocks with a lemon wedge, but I’ll drink it any which way.” — Alex Jump, Bar Manager at Death & Co (Denver)

Jameson Irish Whiskey

“Nothing fancy, just good ol’ Jamo. I would want something comforting and easy to drink. I can see how a complex aged whiskey would be nice to sip on as well, but Jameson is special because it’s what I drink with my family.” — Karen Lin, General Manager and Executive Beverage Director of Bar Moga + SakaMai


“Moonshine is super versatile and can take on really any flavor. It’s also a base for corn whiskey. So with the natural resources available on the island, you could take any fruit and vegetation to make a variety of flavored spirits, or find some wood to age it with, to make whiskey. Even better, you can use it to preserve/pickle fruits and vegetables — survival!” — Emmeline Zhao, Beverage Director, General Manager and Partner of Little Tong (NYC)

A Bottle of My Whisky Infinity

“Why? That’s probably the only way to keep enjoying the sweetness of Redbreast, complexity of Glenfarclas, smokiness of Lagavulin, deliciousness of W.L. Weller, spiciness of WhistlePig and the perfection of Yamazaki. Plus, it’s the only way to have something that’s 100% unique and 100% your own.” — Grisa Soba, co-founder of Flaviar

Also getting votes: Hennessy VSOP, El Jolgorio Tepeztate Mezcal, Campari, Suntory Hakushu, Leblon cachaca, Yamazaki 12, High West Double Rye, Mitcher’s Rye

And the bottles they’d avoid …

George Dickel Tabasco Barrel Finish

“I can only describe the flavor as ‘after you’ve thrown up.’ Terrible idea to age whiskey in a barrel that held vinegar-based hot sauce.” — Jason Horn, spirits writer


“Not since I was 21 have I dared to touch this bottle. But it has its uses: I could use it has a weapon against island predators. Or bust it open and trade the gold flakes as currency.” — John Onsa, Beverage and Food Director of Brim House and The Heights, Renaissance Hotel (Toledo, OH)


“I guess this might be an obvious one to everyone who isn’t from Chicago, but I don’t want to have to drink something that tastes like Band-aids.” — Sam Slaughter, spirits writer and author of “Are You Afraid of the Dark Rum?”


“Found in any local state governed liquor store in central Pennsylvania on the most bottom of shelves, most likely tucked in next to an obscurely flavored Pinnacle bottle.” — Marshall Minaya, Beverage director at Valerie (NYC)


“Not because I don’t like Midori; everything has its place. But hot Midori? No thank you.” — Dave Fisher, Beverage Director of Gran Tivoli and Peppi’s Cellar (NYC)

Fernet Branca

“I actually love the stuff so much that it’s created a ton of memories over the years that are tied to its flavor and smell. When I drink it, good memories come flowing back to me. If I’m stranded on a desert island, would make me sad. And then I’d probably drink more Fernet. Which would bring back more memories and make me sad … you get where this is going.” — Andrew Volk, owner of Portland Hunt + Alpine Club & Little Giant (Portland, ME)


“I’m sure even insects hate Fireball. Maybe I could use it as repellent.” — Josh Murski, lead bartender at Bazaar by José Andrés at SLS Beverly Hills (Beverly Hills, CA)

Southern Comfort

“I poured way too many SoCo & Lime shots bartending at a dive bar in the early 2000s and the smell of it alone makes me dry heave.” — Claire Bertin-Lang, CBL Liquid Consulting

Luxardo Maraschino

“I have a complete aversion to the flavor and the thought of it being the only thing available for me to drink sounds like torture.” — Alex Jump, Bar Manager at Death & Co (Denver)

Sour Apple Schnapps

“It was one of the first liquors to eliminate the craft of the cocktail cheaply, known for its distinct sugary taste that quickly leads to a hangover. Plus, there are not a lot of creative ways to make drinks with this liquor as it has no nuanced flavors, so I would get sick of it quickly.”  — Tony Edgerton, Beverage Director of Upright


“Baijiu is a 80- to 120-proof clear liquor of fermented sorghum with a room-permeating stench that to me can only be described as a unique combination of industrial cleaning solvent, body-dissolving acid and aviation fuel. When I worked in China, my expat friends and colleagues often used baijiu as a punishment for lost bets or dares.” — Emmeline Zhao, Beverage Director, General Manager and Partner of Little Tong (NYC)

Other votes: Vodka (multiple votes), Butterscotch Schnapps, Peppermint Schnapps, McCormick Whiskey, well tequila, any honey whiskey, Kummel, Aftershock, Jagermeister and a “mix of Malibu, Fireball, flavored moonshine and tequila mixto”


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