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. Look, there’s even ice and bar tools—you’re all set. What would you choose?
Kyle Darrow is the lead bartender at Red Owl Tavern in Philadelphia's Old City neighborhood. With a decade of experience behind the stick, Darrow combines his Philly roots and the cultural influences learned from his global travels, alongside constant research and experimentation to develop his latest cocktail creations.
Darrow begins his quest to nail down a desert island top-five list asserting a bone to pick with our requirements, saying, "This is a tough question, and I have one very important counter question: Do bitters count?" Indeed they do, to the chagrin of bartenders stretching back to our first desert island castaway. "I'll argue they should already be in my 'bar kit,' but if not, my first one is a no brainer," he says.
"I am a firm believer that Angostura is the most perfect cocktail ingredient known to man," says Darrow. And he's not afraid to get creative with how he uses it either. "OK, maybe it's not a 'proper spirit,' but use equal parts of that and whiskey as the base in a classic Sour, and tell me that isn't delicious." Plus, says Darrow, “it's basically medicine, so that's an added bonus."
Sometimes a tried and true choice is the best one, even providing comfort and memories of home. "Buffalo Trace and coffee is what our bar runs on," says Darrow. "My team and I have a Buffalo Trace Old Fashioned after every weekend shift: We call it Family Time, and it has fueled so many ideas and great late-night conversations. Which is the center of what I love most about our profession."
"There's no replicating some ice-cold gin, and I want mine to taste like a forest," says Darrow. His choice, then, is St. George's distinctive and highly local Terroir.
"I can't think of anything better to transport me off the island and into a misty forest than this beauty," says Darrow. "The pine and Douglas Fir smacks you right in the face and it has a cooling and refreshing sage finish."
After getting his top three must-haves taken care of, Darrow decides to focus his priorities onto maximizing his island time.
"Since I'm on an island by myself, I'm going to have no shame, so here comes the rum and cocktail umbrellas," he says. "Bourbon and gin are personal favorites, but if you're not drinking out of a coconut or a pineapple, you're doing the whole desert island thing wrong!"
Next up, then, for Darrow is Novo Fogo's silver cachaça. "Because Caipirinhas on a beach are a no brainer," he says. "Novo Fogo makes the best cachaça I've had in the U.S. It's super flavorful without being harsh to drink. I'll even use it as a replacement for white rum in Tiki drinks. It adds a nice vegetal flavor that I enjoy with fruit-forward cocktails."
Ever one to experiment, Darrow also plans to put his island time to good use. "Since I have plenty of time, I wonder what would happen if you aged cachaça in a coconut shell?"
"Have to have a 'special occasion' sipper," says Darrow. And of course, there's assuredly plenty of reasons to celebrate on the island.
"I had a hard time with this one—there are a ton of great whiskeys and rums out there, but ultimately I believe everything is more enjoyable in proper context, so I'm going with a silky smooth Colombian rum," says Darrow of Dictador XO Insolent.
"Full disclosure: My wife is Colombian, and I do have a slight bias, but this rum is special," says Darrow. "They use sugar cane honey rather than molasses and still manage to achieve a world-class rum. It's a great example of what a talented distillery can do."
And hey, “happy wife, happy life” still applies on the island.
Think you know the booze?
Let’s start with some basics.