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Spirits: Desert island bottles

Would Cointreau be on your list? (Antoine Antoniol/Bloomberg News)

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)
    #2: Sequiit Seguinot 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:

  1. Highland Park 18 Orkneys single-malt scotch whisky ($100)
  2. William Larue Weller 2009 Antique Collection bourbon ($65)
  3. Cointreau ($35)
  4. Partida Reposado tequila ($55)
  5. 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.)

By The Food Section  |  June 18, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Spirits  | Tags: Jason Wilson, spirits  
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Sub in Bombay Sapphire for the Tanqueray.

Definitely Cointreau.

I think superpremium Vodka is supersilly, so would go with a bottle of Stolichnya. Gotta be able to make a Cosmo with the Cointreau.

I haven't had the chance to sample many tequilas, so let's have a good bottle of Patron for good measure.

My favorite rum is Centenario Especial out of Costa Rica. If I'm on a desert island, gotta be able to make some tropical drinks.

J3D out

Posted by: JakeD3 | June 18, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Great article Jason, Thanks for making the point that Cognac Seguinot is a great value; the #1 cognac under $450. according to this year's list. Could you fix the spelling (thanks)? We were pleased to have 3 other brandies that made Paul's list come from our portfolio as well. For more info see:

Posted by: SpiritGuy | June 18, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Here is the correct link:

Posted by: SpiritGuy | June 18, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Hi Jason

Fun reading. Again.

So as a rum fan primarily (for me no other spirit has the breadth of tastes, styles etc. that rum has) I would need at least two, a dark and a light:
Ron Zacapa
10 Cane
Beefeater's Gin
Stoli Vodka
Evan Williams Single Barrel 2010 (a great Bourbon)
Glenfiddich (I love it with soda, don't kill me!)
a great 100% blue agave tequila like Herradura etc.
Luxardo Maraschino
and the last would have to be a really good Cognac, don't have to get carried away, the Hine VSOP would be just dandy.

I don't consider vermouth to be a spirit.. so i would have some of each, sweet and dry, along with all the citrus juices and tonic and soda and ginger beer and orgeat and falernum and............

I would be hoping that some of my fellow strandees would have some Pimms and Campari and a nice bottle of rye, along with a few other rums, that would be nice (!), and if they were Irish some Black Bush wouldn't hurt, and maybe someone might have brought along a bottle of Chartreuse too. Sounds like a good group to be mixed up with... now what island was that?

Posted by: gb810 | June 20, 2010 9:30 PM | Report abuse

OOOPs... sorry, meant Evan Wms Single Barrel 2000, not 2010

Posted by: gb810 | June 20, 2010 9:34 PM | Report abuse

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