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My 5 Desert Island Bottles: Derek Brown

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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?

Derek Brown heads Drink Company, which boasts an empire of high-end cocktail and spirits joints around Washington, D.C. His lineup includes Columbia Room, one of the country’s preeminent cocktail bars; Southern Efficiency, his whiskey spot; Eat the Rich, home to oysters and oyster back shots; and Mockingbird Hill, his sherry bar currently undergoing a revamp. He loves whiskey, he loves sherry, he’s a cocktail mastermind, and he’s an advocate for all sorts of rare and unique spirits and ingredients. This should get interesting.


“That’s a tough one,” says Brown. “I’ve flunked this question before on desert island food. Desert island drinks? Whew.”

Brown then laid out the groundwork for his five bottles before going back to choose specific selections. His five mandatory inclusions are sherry, bourbon, scotch, vermouth and gin, and from there his picks emerged in the below order.

1. González Byass Apóstoles Palo Cortado Muy Viejo Sherry

“Well, there will be a bottle of sherry there, no doubt. If it’s not hot and sweaty the whole time, if I just had anything, it would probably be Barbadillo. Wait, no, it might be the González Byass Apóstoles [$23.50], which is their palo cortado. Let me think about this.” Brown is starting with his most difficult selection, a single bottle of sherry, and it proves challenging. “I kind of know which ones I want to go to, but I want to look at the bottle and be, like, Yeah, that’s the one. Like, touch the bottle and go, That’s the one. Yeah, let’s go with this, the Apóstoles by González Byass.”

2. Highland Park 15 Year Single-Malt Scotch Whisky

“Now, picking which scotch, you know what? I’m going to make it very simple instead of making it extremely complicated. I’m going to go Highland Park 15 [$90].”

3. & 4. Plymouth Gin and Dolin Dry Vermouth

“These two are so I can make a Martini,” says Brown, who also prefers a two-to-one gin-to-vermouth (specifically Dolin dry vermouth, $13) ratio in an everyday Martini. “And I prefer Plymouth [$27] in my Martinis.”

5. Belle Meade 9 Year Sherry Cask Finish Bourbon

Brown originally picks Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit ($64), frantically searching out the bottle and pouring a sample but then has a change of heart. “You know what, the Belle Meade Sherry Cask [$80] might be … you see?!” Brown exclaims in exasperated protest to the difficulty and constraints of the challenge. “OK, fuck it, switch to Belle Meade Sherry Cask.” For Brown, sometimes it all comes back to the sherry, with both a sherry-cask-aged scotch and a sherry-cask-finished bourbon.

“Hopefully you’ll let me sneak in a bottle of orange bitters,” he suggests. But rules are rules, and that’s five bottles already. Sorry, Derek.

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