If you were stuck on a desert island and could only take one bottle of booze, what would you pick? Your answer says a lot about you as a drinker. Choosing a single spirit to sip on forever forces you to set aside trends and marketing and hype, revealing your true tastes. So I asked a set of top bartenders and drinks tastemakers what they’d want to drink every day for the rest of their lives. Their selections represent a great set of bottles any bar could use.
PAMELA WIZNITZER, NEW YORK
Highland Park 18 Year Old Single Malt Scotch
Pamela Wiznitzer is a very busy woman. She’s the proprietress of Manhattan bar Seamstress and the president of the United States Bartenders Guild’s New York chapter, and she’s hard at work on a master’s thesis about drinking in America for the NYU food studies program. Her pick is a classic single malt Scotch: “Highland Park 18 has the perfect balance of light peat, sweetness (from the sherry cask finishing) and robust malt, and is a fantastic product to drink solo or with water,” she says. But it also offers an unexpected mixological option. “Added bonus: if the desert island has coconuts, the liquor is delicious when mixed with coconut water.”
CHRIS HANNAH, NEW ORLEANS
When you’re the best-known bartender in New Orleans, you’d better go with a hometown favorite in a story like this. And Arnaud’s French 75 head bartender Chris Hannah did just that. “There are many anise liquors out there, but Herbsaint’s balance has it perfect for mixing or by itself,” he says. Developed just after Prohibition by a local apothecary as a substitute for the then-illegal absinthe, Herbsaint has been indispensible for Crescent City cocktails like the Sazerac ever since. As an extra, it’s excellent for the hot weather one might encounter on a desert island: “When it’s hot, the cool licorice notes of Herbsaint are quite refreshing,” Hannah says.
CHARLES JOLY, CHICAGO
Del Maguey Tobala Mezcal
With the help of this sweet, fruity and lightly smoky mezcal on a desert island, “I’m sure I’d make friends with anyone I came across,” says Charles Joly. The award-winning mixologist—he was named American Bartender of the Year at the 2013 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards and was the Diageo World Class global champ last year—recently left top Windy City watering hole The Aviary to create Crafthouse, a line of high-end bottled cocktails. Joly emphasizes Tobala’s versatility: You can drink it straight, and if I can rustle up some citrus and sugar cane, I can also fashion a nice little cocktail,” he says.
BEAU DU BOIS, LOS ANGELES
The Corner Door may look like a nondescript neighborhood restaurant, but for the last three years, it’s been a reliable source of the City of Angels’ best drinks thanks to its talented bar manager, Beau du Bois. He’s a big proponent of armagnac, so it’s no surprise that he chose a bottle of cognac’s more rustic French-brandy sibling. “I know I could easily spend many days alone on a deserted island interpreting the distinct aromatics of a large glass of armagnac,” he says. “With more of a dry, heartier kick than cognac, armagnac would ensure that my island buzz would be steady and thoughtful.” Du Bois’ chosen brand, Darroze, specializes in vintage-dated bottlings that are all aged at least 10 years, ranging from 2002 all the way back to 1943.
NOAH ROTHBAUM, NEW YORK
Noah Rothbaum has more than a decade of experience writing about spirits, with two books and a stint as editor-in-chief of Liquor.com under his belt. And as the author of the recent The Art of American Whiskey, his obvious choice would be a bourbon. In addition to offering tasty fruit and chocolate notes, this barrel-strength bottling would be useful on an actual desert island, too: “Since it’s high proof I could also use it to disinfect cuts or clean wounds. And if I had to, I could use it as a fuel to build a fire,” he says. But really, it’s Booker’s versatility that draws Rothbaum. It’s tasty neat or mixed into just about any kind of cocktail.
SCOTT BAIRD, SAN FRANCISCO
Tequila Ocho 2014 Reposado La Magueyera
Alongside business partner Josh Harris, Scott Baird is the force behind one of San Francisco’s top cocktail destinations, Trick Dog, and has influenced drinks menus around the country through his bar consultancy The Bon Vivants. For him, tequila was the only choice, and this special bottling from Tequila Ocho was made from agave grown on a single rancho in Jalisco. “This is deeeelicious agave-forward, lightly rested bottled magic,” Baird says. “As good as tequila gets.” You’ll find fruit, herbs, bread, flowers and chocolate in the deeply complex bottling.
Jason Horn is Playboy.com’s spirits columnist. He lives in Los Angeles and you can follow him on Twitter @messyepicure.
IF YOU GET OFF THE ISLAND, HERE’S A GOOD SPOT TO DRINK