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?
If the name Jim Kearns sounds familiar it’s because he has worked behind the stick at some of the best bars in New York City, from Pegu Club and The NoMad Bar to Death & Co, Mayahuel and Rye House. Currently the bar director and partner at The Happiest Hour and Slowly Shirley in Greenwich Village, Kearns cites Sasha Petraske and Audrey Saunders as mentors.
In short, the guy knows his booze. “I could go on and on with this list,” he says. “I’d need a good ‘slugging straight out of the bottle and listening to The Rolling Stones at 5 a.m.' bottle, a great Daiquiri rum and, of course, a great Margarita and sipping tequila.”
But five means five! With that in mind, these are the very special bottles Kearns would take to his isolated hideaway.
“The Blade and Bow 22-year-old, released in 2015, allegedly has some of the last whiskey ever distilled at Stitzel-Weller in its blend of two bourbons aged and bottled at the distillery,” says Kearns.
The whiskey is a reminder of what Kearns calls “the best bourbon I've ever tasted.” That was Van Winkle 12-year-old from the last batch distilled at Stitzel-Weller. He and some friends finished a bottle at d.b.a. in New Orleans a few months prior to Katrina. “The city changed forever, and it was a perfect night out with some dear friends,” says Kearns. “I say this because, like many items on this list, they evoke very fond memories, as the best food and drinks should.”
As for the Blade and Bow 22-year-old itself, Kearns says: “Its deep, rich palette, evocative of baked fruit, spice and vanilla, is something I could sip on every night while enjoying exile on a desert island.”
“This bottle is like nothing I've tasted before or since,” says Kearns. Most of the 720 375 mL bottles that were produced are now gone, but Kearns says there are a few still rattling around.
“This brandy de Jerez was aged for 50 years in oloroso barrels, hence its rarity,” says Kearns. “It’s dark brown, almost black in color and tastes strongly of coffee, chocolate and raisins, balanced out by a somewhat unexpected vegetal, earthy flavor. I could drink this stuff every night before bed for the rest of my life quite happily.”
“Bottled in 2013 at 35 years old and limited to a run of 240 bottles, this is one of my favorite of Samaroli's iconoclastic offerings,” says Kearns.
“This particular whiskey has all of the notes of a card-carrying Islay scotch,” says Kearns. “It’s strawlike in color, with a smoky, toasted nose and a backbone of dried fruit and spice. It’s definitely a nice, relaxing spirit to sip on a hammock while gazing at the stars.”
“No exile on a desert island would be complete without at least one bottle of rum,” says Kearns. Though he concedes his pick isn't destined for cocktails—an occasional Ti’ Punch aside.
“This one exemplifies the aged agricole style, in which aging on wood dramatically takes the angular, grassy qualities of the fresh sugar cane, while still allowing its unique flavor to come through,” says Kearns.
“It's aged for 15 years in the warm Caribbean climate of Martinique in Limousin oak barrels, giving it a dark, amber color and imbuing it with notes of leather, tobacco, coconut, baking spice and nuts,” says Kearns. “Of course, there's a silky, overarching flavor of freshly pressed sugar cane, grown in the dark, volcanic soil surrounding the distillery, tying it all together.”
For Kearns, the Del Maguey Madrecuixe is another choice that calls upon fond memories. On a 2010 trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, Kearns and crew partied at a wedding, diverted to the ER and made a visit to Cuish mezcaleria, among others.
“Cuish specializes in uncertified, wild-grown mezcals,” says Kearns. “This was a chance to try the real stuff, as we would never be able to get it back home [in 2010]. One of the first mezcals we were served was a karwinskii. It was the first mezcal I'd tried from a stalk-shaped agave as opposed to the more common pineapple-shaped variety, and it was like nothing I'd ever tasted before, full of complex notes, including grass, citrus, earth, hay, herbs and nuts.”
As for the Del Maguey Madrecuixe, “it's the closest thing I've found to that bottle,” says Kearns. Madrecuixe is from the karwinskii species, and this bottling “retains all of the same qualities I remember in the first one I tasted, with a little more roundness and fruit. It’s a sublime, complex distillate I would be ecstatic to drink daily for the rest of my life.”