Spirits: Desert island bottles
In the June issue of the influential newsletter Spirit Journal, critic F. Paul Pacult publishes his annual list of the "130 Best Spirits in the World." Back in 2008, I profiled Pacult, who is a sort of Robert Parker of the spirits world, upon the release of the second edition of his spirits buying guide, Kindred Spirits. Pacult claims to have tasted over 20,000 spirits in nearly two decades of reviewing, and so his bests are always worth noting.
Broken down by category, his list is an interesting mix of high and low, with wide price disparities, even among bottles that place first and second:
- Best Cognac: Frapin Extra Grand Champagne ($491)
SequiitSeguinot Napoleon Grande Champagne ($78)
- Best Rum: Neisson Rhum Agricole Blanc ($30 per liter)
#2: English Harbor 25-year-old ($395)
- Best Irish Whiskey: Middleton Very Rare ($140)
#2: Bushmills 16-year-old Single Malt ($60)
There were also surprises within the categories. Pacult named a Dutch gin called Nolet Finest Gins Silver (made by the same family who distills Ketel One vodka) as Best Gin -- even though it won't be released until September. It beat out such standards as Plymouth and Tanqueray.
The best values on the list were, as usual, American whiskeys: Evan Williams Vintage 2000 ($26) and Russell's Reserve 6-year-old rye ($25). There were also good-value selections in rum (Appleton Estate Extra at $25), gin (Tanqueray at $22) and, shockingly, grappa (Jacopo Poli's Sarpa di Poli at $29). I was happily surprised to see an aquavit, Lysholm Linie from Norway, listed at #2 in the category of Vodka, Aquavit, & Neutral Grain Spirits; was Pacult sending some kind of a message to vodka producers?
What I found most interesting about this issue of Spirits Journal, however, came near the back, where in a tiny sidebar, Pacult discussed his top five "Trapped-on-a-Desert-Island" spirits that he couldn't live without. They are:
- Highland Park 18 Orkneys single-malt scotch whisky ($100)
- William Larue Weller 2009 Antique Collection bourbon ($65)
- Cointreau ($35)
- Partida Reposado tequila ($55)
- Tanqueray London Dry gin ($22)
These are certainly five admirable bottles. But it got me thinking about my own desert-island list. I think I'd replace the Partida with El Tesoro de Don Felipe Blanco tequila ($45), and drop the 134-proof W.L. Weller in favor of something like Four Roses Single-Barrel bourbon ($50). The Cointreau seems essential, and Tanqueray would be acceptable -- although I wouldn't cry if it was Plymouth gin, either. The scotch I could certainly live without. But what to replace it with? And, when I got bored, what would I mix with? If my fifth bottle was Campari, for instance, I'd also need sweet vermouth to make a Negroni or an Americano. Even Pacult acknowledges he'd need tonic and vermouth for his gin, and fresh-squeezed lime juice for margaritas, and I agree. Would I add another liqueur, such as Luxardo maraschino? Or should I, since it's a fantasy, go big with something like Christian Drouhin 1959 Calvados ($659) or Pierre Ferrand Ancestrale cognac ($750).
But none of this seems satisfactory: There are too many categories missing. And so I've begun work on my own list, a Top Ten list, that I'll reveal in my July 7 column.
In the meantime, I'm asking readers for their top spirits lists. What bottles would you need to "survive" while stranded on that proverbial desert island?
-- Jason Wilson
(Follow me on Twitter.)
The Food Section
June 18, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Spirits | Tags: Jason Wilson, spirits
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