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?
Erick Castro is the proprietor of Polite Provisions in San Diego. He's not always on the West Coast though. He helped launch New York's Boilermaker, and beyond that, he also created the roving Bartender at Large documentary, embarking on a massive cross-country tour of bars, breweries, distilleries and everything in between. He's clearly a man on the move, which means that being trapped on a desert island is probably a vexing proposition. Not to mention, we're sticking him with a handful of bottles instead of his typical accruement of hundreds.
"I have to start out by saying that narrowing down the entire spirits world to just five bottles to drink on an island is nearly impossible," says Castro. But we know he's up for the challenge. "The best way to approach this is with the understanding that this list changes day to day based entirely on my current mood," he says. "So if you asked me again in a month, I could quite possible give you a different list."
On this particular day, then, this is what Castro chose.
"As a big-time agave lover, I consistently find myself coming back to tequila when I'm looking for a late night sipper," says Castro. As for the Siete Leguas specifically, it was a game changer for him.
"I credit this tequila as being one of the first quality tequilas that I fell in love with and truly learned to appreciate," says Castro. "During my time of working at a tequila bar many years ago, I finally began to expand my tastes outside of my college drinking experiences, which consisted of shots of mixto chased by a salt and lime combo." Surely, he's not the only one out there who's thankful for moving past that period.
Castro knows that more and more quality vermouths are available these days and there's not just one that's perfect for all applications. "It's highly debatable as to which makes the best Manhattan or Negroni," he says.
That said, he's quick on the trigger when he wants to savor the vermouth as a sipper. "When it comes to sipping one on its own, I always lean toward Carpano Antica," says Castro. Its deep flavor, which makes one think of dates, caramel and orange peel, is always welcome."
"Although there are plenty of other bourbons out there that are just as good and considered more high-end, this is just one of those whiskeys that always hits the spot, while also reminding you of why you drink bourbon in the first place," Castro says of Old Grand-Dad, the king of the bonded bottom-shelf.
"Too often in the liquor world, the folks in marketing try to wrestle control away from the distillers and strip a spirit of the character that makes it unique," says Castro. "Luckily for us, however, brands like Old Grand-Dad have managed to steer clear of any such meddling."
Back-to-back whiskeys for the win on Castro's desert island! "This is just one of those whiskeys that I fell in love with as soon as I tried it," he says.
As with the Siete Leguas, Lot No. 40 changed Castro's perspective on an entire category. "Despite the fact that I typically veer away from Canadian whisky, this one has reset the standard for the entire category," he says. "Also, it's nice to drink a rye whiskey today that’s made by the actual distillery, instead of bought from a third-party distiller. Thanks to the intense peppery spice that you get from it, it’s perfect for Old Fashioneds and Manhattans."
There are two whiskeys and a vermouth on the list, so one might be able to figure out where Castro is going with his final selection. "Considering that I will already have sweet vermouth and whiskey on this island, it would be pretty foolish of me not to bring along a bottle of Campari," he says.
"Not only would it make beautiful Boulevardiers but also a great beverage on its own or mixed with whatever native fruit juices that I could manage on my island," says Castro. "Plus, the natural medicinal qualities of it would help to settle the stomach."