17 Top Bartenders' Desert Island Cocktails
One of the most common lies we tell ourselves is "just one drink," but what if you had to choose one... for the rest of your life? It's tough to select one drink to be stuck with on a proverbial desert island, and even more so if your life is dedicated to cocktails. To find out which drinks truly have the most staying power, we polled a group of esteemed cocktail experts to name the one drink they'd marry until death do them part.
"The gin martini is one of the pinnacles of Western civilization. The martini hour is Western man’s equivalent of the Japanese tea ceremony. Enjoying a martini each afternoon on a desert island, or just about anywhere, transports the drinker to a place of calm, rendering him or her carefree, in good cheer, and slightly buzzed." - Dale "King Cocktail" DeGroff
"If I had to choose one cocktail to drink for the rest of my life it would have to be the martini. For the record, there is only one martini and it comes with gin, dry vermouth, a dash of orange bitters, and a lemon twist. Choosing the gin and the vermouth would be the hardest part, but I'd have to go with Old Raj 110 and Carpano Dry. I could enjoy just those two ingredients in differing proportions for the rest of my life and still not uncover all that those delicious bottles of booze have to offer." - Myles Worrell, Esquire Tavern (San Antonio, TX)
"Guests frequently ask me what my favorite cocktail is when I’m behind the bar, and I always tell them that it changes every few months. But if I had to pick only one cocktail to be with, 'til death do us part, that will still be just as sexy 40 years from now, and is always a good companion for any conversation? It would have to be a classic martini. Three parts Tanqueray to one part Dolin dry vermouth, a couple of dashes of bitters, and a lemon twist." - Bobby Heugel, Anvil (Houston, TX)
"The Twentieth Century (dry gin, lemon, cacao, Lillet Blanc or substitute). It's the rare drink that is light enough to pair with food, yet also perfect on its own. And it's fun to taste at different places because each take on it (proportionally and product-wise) is unique." - Danny Shapiro, Scofflaw (Chicago, IL)
Gin and tonic
"Given the climate of Austin, TX (which is pretty similar to a desert island), I would choose the cocktail it took an empire to create: a gin and tonic. Particularly a gin and tonic made with St. George Terroir and a nice Fever-Tree Indian tonic, as well as a juicy lime wedge, of course. I'd get a lot of mileage out of this refresher given our yearly heat waves, but it also satisfies on a bitter wintry evening." - Bob King, Arro (Austin, TX)
"The reasoning behind the Old Fashioned dates back to its first printed definition in an 1806 newspaper editorial in New York's Hudson Valley. It was originally defined as 'sugar, water, bitters, and spirit of any kind.' While most people associate the Old Fashioned with American whiskey and Angostura bitters, the original definition clearly gives us lots of wiggle room.
I love Scotch Old Fashioneds sweetened with a touch of honey and dashes of orange and celery bitters. Rum Old Fashioneds prepared with a funky aged rhum agricole, sweetened with cane sugar, and bittered with Peychaud's is a treat. Grade B maple syrup paired with root beer bitters plays fabulously with a malty genever. The list goes on and on, and I haven't even started talking about using potable bitters (Italy, Germany, and Hungary are renowned for their bittersweet herbal liqueurs), which can frequently pull double duty as both sweetening and bittering agents. If I have to pick one drink, the sheer flexibility of the Old Fashioned's template gives me a lifetime's worth of experimentation to explore and enjoy." - Joaquín Simó, Pouring Ribbons (New York, NY)
"If I could only drink one drink for the rest of my life, it would be the Old Fashioned and all of its variations. Simple to make, but so complex in flavor, and swapping out the spirit allows for me to never get bored!" - Jamie Boudreau, Canon (Seattle, WA)
"The Old Fashioned as a style of drink is both extremely simple and extremely versatile. Sugar, bitter, spirit, and (maybe?) a little ice. Your sugars/sweeteners can change with mood, season, spirit, or cupboard, and the bitters can enhance a favored flavor or mask an undesirable quality in a spirit.
In terms of spirits, I'd choose rum... it's just so tasty. It can be light and dry, it can be dark and rich, it can be fruity or spicy, vegetal or like candy. And you can mix them! Our rum Old Fashioned at The Hawthorne has the slightly funky Jamaican Appleton Reserve, the deliciously rich El Dorado 15-year from Guyana, and Batavia arrack, which is wild on its own, but brings a brightness to the Old Fashioned. Rum's diversity and the Old Fashioned’s structure as a cocktail make it a winner for my lonely eternity on an island." - Jackson Cannon, The Hawthorne and Eastern Standard (Boston, MA)
"I've always appreciated cocktails that are free of superfluous ingredients, and the Old Fashioned doesn't have any fat on it. As a whiskey enthusiast, I take comfort in the fact that any style of whiskey will work in that cocktail. As a bartender, it's always good to have a few cocktails in your back pocket that will appeal to cocktail enthusiasts and novices alike.” - Benjamin Schiller, Berkshire Room (Chicago, IL)
"If I had to pick just one cocktail, I would probably go with the Sazerac. They say you never forget your first love, and for me, the Sazerac was the drink that opened my eyes to the potential in cocktails. Its Old Fashioned roots are recognizable, but there is mystery there in the whiff of licorice from the Herbsaint rinse and the lemon oil dancing on the nose. This is a cruel game though, because now I really want a daiquiri." - Bill Norris, Midnight Cowboy (Austin, TX)
"If I could only have one drink for the rest of my life, it would be a Gold Rush (bourbon, lemon, honey) with a great Kentucky bourbon. It's simple, delicious, and I would hate to be known as the Singapore Sling guy. No one likes that guy. No one!" - Billy Ray, 13-Stitches (Los Angeles, CA)
Fish House Punch (typically rum, Cognac, and peach brandy)
"The very idea of having to pluck but one blossom from the Edenic flower-garden of cocktail types that human ingenuity, guided by divine providence, has created to give us a brief illusion of happiness in this fallen word fills me with sadness. If forced to choose -- and it would take some serious gun-to-the-head stuff -- I'd have to go with Fish House Punch, but only if I were allowed to drink it morning, noon, and night. Its soft pleasantness would be just the thing to cushion my traumatized psyche." - David Wondrich, author of Imbibe! and Punch
"I'd pick the biggest Negroni ever made from Tales of the Cocktail three years ago. If not that, a very long line of very small Negronis." - Justin Elliott, Qui (Austin, TX)
"If I had to choose a cocktail to drink for the rest of my life, it would be the Negroni because the balance of the gin, sweet vermouth, and bitter in the Campari make it a cocktail to enjoy before a meal or while at a party. You know that you can never go wrong and it has such a great flavor. I just love it." - Ricardo Murcia, Bellagio (Las Vegas, NV)
"My favorite cocktail of all time would have to be the Negroni. The cocktail consists of one part gin, one part Campari, and one part sweet vermouth, garnished with an orange peel. It's just the perfect marriage of three central ingredients that come together in a certain harmony. The Negroni takes its spot at the top of my list because it is a classic Italian-crafted cocktail, and also because it's known as an apéritif, making it the perfect cocktail to both commence a celebration, or to end a perfect evening. Plus, it rhymes with Tony!" - Tony Abou-Ganim, The Modern Mixologist
"Much like the beloved tuxedo T-shirt, the Negroni dresses for all occasions. It says, 'I want to be formal, but I’m here to party!' This sweet, bitter & boozy palate pleaser has been on the tip of everyone's tongue for close to a century now. So simple to build, the Negroni is a cinch for even the at-home novice. Suited for both men and women alike, the Negroni’s complexity remains unrivaled. Thank you Count Negroni!" - Dan Marohnic, Commonwealth (Las Vegas, NV)
"The Americano is where the Negroni came from. Sweet vermouth, Campari, and club soda. It's one of those things that you can drink and drink. If you vary the ratio of vermouth and Campari, you could drink it every day. You build it like a tall highball over ice, equal parts, preferably Italian sweet vermouth that isn't too bitter. Then you put a slice of orange in there and it mellows it out. It gets better as the ice melts. Even if you use the same vermouth, changing the ratio completely changes the cocktail." - Jason Kosmas, The 86 Co. and Employees Only (New York, NY)
Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's National Food and Drink team. His desert island drink is a deflated volleyball filled with coconut water and his own tears. Follow him to more literal interpretations at @Dannosphere.