My 5 Desert Island Bottles: Chuck Rivera of Caneca in San Juan, Puerto Rico

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You’re trapped on a desert island, but the good news is that you can bring five bottles of booze with you to pass the time for you and your friends. Look, there’s even ice and bar tools—you’re all set. What would you choose?

After a two-year stint as head bartender at Washington, D.C.’s barmini, Jose “Chuck” Rivera has returned home to San Juan, Puerto Rico. That’s where he first got started with José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup back in 2012, working at Mi Casa at Dorado Beach. Now he’s a partner in a new project, the just-opened Caneca, located at Lote 23 in San Juan’s Santurce district. The cocktail truck provides boozy libations for revelers wandering around the party center with a dozen integrated food and hangout spots.

“This is really complicated to pick a top five,” says Rivera. “Because there are a lot of amazing labels around.” Therefore, to start clearing through the clutter and give himself some direction, Rivera took the desert island component true to heart. “Focusing on that it’s a desert island, the best I think for my friends to enjoy are refreshing and low-ABV drinks,” says Rivera. With that in mind, here are Rivera’s top five picks.

1. Yzaguirre Selection 1884 Vermouth ($23)

“So this is one of my favorite vermouths of all time,” says Rivera. “It’s so versatile and really good for cocktails or on its own.”

He has his own mandated method for consumption, though. “If you drink it on its own, please drink it with olives,” says Rivera. “Best pairing ever.”

2. Lustau Almacenista Amontillado del Puerto de José Luis González Obregón Sherry ($23)

Rivera sticks to his low-ABV guns for his second selection, choosing this sherry from Lustau’s Almacenista range. “It’s an amazing sherry to have with or without food, hot or cold weather, alone or with friends,” says Rivera. “Just have fun with it!”

3. Ron del Barrilito 3 Stars ($35)

“This is a family tradition, blended rum made in Bayamon, Puerto Rico,” says Rivera of this rum aged between six and 10 years. “It has tasting notes that remind me of where I’m from, with bananas, coconut, coffee, caramel and tobacco.”

Besides staying with a local product that reminds him of home, Rivera has other reasons for this selection: “I’m kind of a pirate sometimes,” he says.

4.  Citadelle Gin ($26)

Rivera wants some gin on hand, and he wants it for a very specific Gin & Tonic rendition. “We call it Jordi’s Way,” says Rivera. “I learned this from a somm friend that’s Spanish. I drank it with him one day, and since then I’m in love with it.”

The recommended libation is made with dos deditos, or “two fingers,” of Citadelle gin, along with Fever-Tree tonic water, lime peel, lemon peel and lemon verbena. “It’s awesome!”

5. V.E.P. Green Chartreuse ($100)

It’s no secret that bartenders love Chartreuse. Rivera is no different, and when he opts to go big, he goes for this Chartreuse, which has undergone extra aging in oak casks. “I call this the victory sip,” says Rivera. “Every time I have the opportunity to enjoy one, it’s always surrounded by amazing friends celebrating something. That’s a victory!”

Locations: Puerto Rico San Juan
Series & Type: Products
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