Category Archives: Lost Spirits

Rational Spirits – Santería Rum (46%)

santeria_rumWait, what the hell is this?!? Rum??? I thought this was How to Drink Whisky?! What’s next? How to Drink Mezcal? How to Drink Vodka? How to Drink Shit Mixed with Redbull? Well okay, How to Drink Mezcal sounds pretty awesome. I definitely wish I paid better attention in Spanish class so I could pursue it. Que lastima! Maybe it’s not too late to learn.

To summarize a hundred bloggers who wrote about this before me last year, in 2015 Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits fame announced that he was waiting for a patent. Studying a 20 year old rum, he claimed to have made a machine that could take a spirit, fresh off the still, and combine it with oak in a way that would create a cocktail of chemicals with a similar composition to the older spirit.

Every serious whisky drinker anywhere collectively rolled their eyes at the announcement. We’ve all heard that story a hundred times. Sure you can change that spirit dramatically by boiling it in a pressure cooker, spiking it with sawdust, or shaking it violently, but it will always taste at least a little but like mulched goat piss… and those sad, New York hipsters will love it just the same.

I’ll admit, I was as jaded and skeptical as the rest. At first, I secretly hoped it wasn’t true, that whisky-arsonist and friend of the blog Davis hadn’t just committed the ultimate whisky maker’s faux pas. Now he’s got a waiting list of spirits companies in line to lease his machine. The first to sign up, Rational Spirits, just released their flagship rum, Santería. Looks (and tastes) like success to me.

Discussing it with Davis, he’s clear that he’s not selling a machine. It’s more like he’s selling a mad scientist starter kit with warranty and consultation with an actual mad scientist… and there are good reasons why he has a waiting list now. Analog maturation’s main drawbacks are that it takes lots of time and then there’s usually a high degree of variability in each individual cask. Davis’ digital setup makes the best effort yet to control that variability and make a product extremely uniform on a much faster pace. The implications for the spirits business are exciting… and certainly a bit terrifying.

Jeffeesons Aged at Pug Small Batch

It’s not a box you pour liquor into, press a button and after a period of time it spits out 20 year old brandy. At the same time, this specificity seems to be one of it’s most desirable assets; with Davis’ reactor, the product will be exactly what you craft it to be, and once you set it up, it will produce consistent results over and over. You like that honey barrel you found by the rickhouse window? Analyze it in the spectrometer and imitate it. If you know what you want in a whisky and can provide a sample for analysis, you can probably make it.

In the end none of this written chatter really means anything if the product doesn’t taste real. I was expecting an uncanny valley of sorts, where the spirit would be close to old rum but something wouldn’t seem quite right in an almost imperceptible way. Not the case. Santería is undeniably delicious. For $36 a bottle, too? Get the fuck out!!! Now, I can afford to drink mai tais all night long! Does it taste exactly like the 20 year old rum they tried to imitate? I can’t say, but it’s damn tasty and if you told me blind that it was an honest 20 year old, I would believe it.

So how does his machine work? Well, there are a few different processes that happen in different parts of the setup. Once you have a snapshot of your target spirit’s profile, your own spirit as it came off the still, and snapshots of all the components, you juggle these four processes, analyzing it along the way to create the final spirit.

I won’t bore you with too many details but one process holds wood suspended in spirit at a precise temperature which seems to extract a catalyst from the oak. The spirit is held at other temperatures which are tuned in to expedite reactions between the various carboxylic acids, phenolic acids and alcohols created or extracted in the other processes, speeding up the creation of precious, targeted esters that typically take long periods of time to form. Another process utilizes photocatalytic science. Pondering the way the sun was breaking down the surface of his deck, Bryan realized wood degrades in sunlight and unleashes a lot of the same components unleashed when wood breaks down in alcohol, most importantly lots of precursor acids. So another stage employs an extremely powerful light, powerful enough to give you a sunburn in under a minute, shining it at the wood suspended in alcohol to accelerate the break down of the wood. One process bubbles measured amounts of oxygen into the spirit to convert certain acids into aldehydes. The last process is another temperature process that utilizes bacteria from the wood to create new carboxylic acids which would usually be breathed in by the barrel and later converted to esters. Wash, rinse, esterify, and repeat.

Rating: Highly RecommendSo is this the end of barrel aged spirits? It could be. At the very least, it’s changing the landscape and understanding of the aged spirits industry. I knew this guy was going to do great things.

Thank you to Bryan and Joanne for the bottle. Cheers!

Lost Spirits – Umami (59%)

Umami, destroying San Francisco14:46 JST, Friday, March 11, 2011, the most powerful earthquake to hit Japan shook the island. At the bottom of the ocean, something woke up; something that had been sleeping for a very long time. The jolt triggered a tsunami that caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant in Ōkuma. Thousands of gallons of radioactive water spilled into the ocean. People scrambled as their cars and pets were washed away. Homes and lives were destroyed… and the Sleeper grew.

For three years, the Sleeper fed on other monsters of the Mariana Trench, waiting, biding its time, and growing in the increasingly radioactive waters there. When it outgrew its home, it began to journey east. Sometime in March of 2014, the Sleeper made landfall in Monterey County, California. It quickly cut a swath 200 miles north to St. Helena, where it laid waste to Charbay Winery and Distillery, stopping along the way to ravage Anchor distillery in San Francisco and St. George’s in Alameda. No distillery is safe from its fiery breath. No human is prepared to face the monster. Humankind is not ready for this. This whisky is a giant beast, the likes of which we couldn’t tame… but I mean, this is Lost Spirits we’re talking about here. Sounds like all systems normal to me.

Distiller Bryan Davis is still using Canadian peat and local barley, and he’s preserved his nefarious house style, but he’s taken the way he crafts his whisky in a new direction since the last time this blog visited him. Now, all his whisky mashes are fermented with salt water. He used brine from the nearby Pacific Ocean at first, but later opted for the convenience of Pacific sea salt. Why salt? Yeast can’t multiply in salt. Doesn’t that sound counter intuitive?

For starters, salt helps facilitate the separation of alcohol and water in the still. Salt raises the boiling point of the medium it’s dissolved in, and is around 500 times less soluble in alcohol than water. That means it has little effect on the ethanol while causing the water to take more energy to boil. As the distillation progresses, the salt concentration rises in the water, exponentially raising the boiling point, making it even harder for the water to evaporate, allowing for an easier cut of the alcohol.

Lost Spirits Umami

On a biological level, the salt provides a hostile environment for the yeast, causing it to build up its cell walls, up to eight times thicker, to withstand the barrage of cell-moisture stealing saline. The thicker walls mean the yeast is less able to split and multiply in the mash, so you have to grow your yeast to where you need it while it’s outside the mash first, but it also means that the yeast have more armor and thus can survive and continue producing alcohol to a higher percent by volume without dying from exposure to lethal concentrations of ethanol. This means more alcohol per batch with more yeast produced congeners in the mix, as well.

Most of the yeast’s processes happen through these cell walls, changing the dynamics of how it lives and functions. This affects how it creates different compounds, among which Davis hopes are a more complex series of mono sodium complexes, various salts with a bouquet of new salty flavors.  Among the eponymously umami compounds he hopes to create, are sodium acetate, sodium lactate, and sodium propionate, all compounds commonly used as food additives with mildly salty flavors. The second of the bunch, sodium lactate, is commercially manufactured by neutralizing lactic acid and can be used to treat arrhythmia and hypertension but can also cause panic attacks in those prone to having them; I defy you to find someone making whisky this bad-ass; a spirit that may just cause fits of existential terror. Awesome!

While I appreciate the bold new approach, the thing I admire most about this distillery and its team is the honesty. A short Godzilla-stroll to the north, Charbay hijacked a few hundred year old practice and claimed it for themselves, saying they were the first to distill a hopped beer as a mash, despite a precedent dating back to the 1700’s of people doing just that. These folks are part of the California craft whisky movement, zealously lauded by bloggers for pushing the envelope, but how far are they really pushing it? A couple hundred miles to the south, Davis asks himself, “what could I mix with my whisky mash that might kill a man on the cusp of dehydration? Eureka! Sea water!!!” As I write this, even, he’s still evolving, fermenting milk dunder for rye and harnessing the power of the sun in some bizarre, alchemical fashion. I can’t even keep up!

But make no mistake, Davis doesn’t try to take credit for being the first to distill on salt water. He’s actually doubtful that he’s the first. He stumbled onto the idea of using salt water while pondering a map of Scotland and trying to figure out how a barrel aged in Glasgow takes on an oceanic quality being so far from the ocean. Even barrels aged by the sea were perplexing, as salt can’t penetrate the pores of the cask. So where is it coming from? Are they pumping sea water into the fermenters?

One more curiosity, in Scotland, the stills are fixed or replaced every ten years as the distilling takes its toll, while over in France, there are Cognac stills that have been running solid for 90 years. You know what can cause metal to wear out faster than normal, don’t you? Salt. It was the possibility that ocean-side and island-dwelling distillers may be using sea water in a more direct way than they let on, which lead Davis to investigate. Eventually, after he finishes piecing together his forensics lab at the distillery, he plans to see if he can find the tell-tale chemical markers that would give away the secrets hiding within. Saying that I’m eager to hear about his results is a colossal understatement.

As for the whisky itself, this bottle of Umami shows significant growth in the Lost Spirits house style. I’m definitely digging it. I can’t quite figure out if Davis is a scientist or a madman. Perhaps he’s a little of both, but either way, whether or not the world is ready for what he has to offer, I have a feeling we’ll see his name associated with the discovery of some wild advance in whisky, soon. Stay tuned!

Nose: Youthful with lots of that dusty, Salinas terrior they’re known for. Kodak film in the little, black, plastic containers film used to come in. Drift wood smoke and heaps of smoldering sandalwood incense. Cedar planks and salted cashews. Oddly lemony with an extremely light malt, oatmeal cookies, and dry seaweed.

Palate: Fiery and resinous with the drift wood from the nose. It sticks with you for a long time and eventually finds itself seeping through every cell in your body, until you can practically taste it with your skin. Fistfuls of lovely pipe tobacco stuffed into a sun-baked bike tire. Savory eggplant, tomato skins, and musky cologne. The finish is raw capsaicin on the sides of your tongue with loads of sandalwood, and just as the monster trails off, it leaves you with a hint of cocoa powder.

Rating: Recommended but EvilThis is the new badge and category I’ve created especially for the Lost Spirits team to celebrate what I would call their best batch yet: “Recommended but Evil”. Life is short. Live a little and leave no room for regrets. Grab the beast by the horns and confront the terrors of the world, because really, nothing will ever be as terrible as the monsters within. Plus, once you’ve seen what the depths have to offer, you may be surprised to find yourself coming back for more.

Many thanks to Bryan Davis for the bottle. Cheers!

Lost Spirits – Bohemian Bonfire (59%)

Bohemian BonfireThe folks at Lost Spirits seemed apprehensive when I first began talking with them. My blunt and churlish style often deters people who disagree with my convictions, but they rolled with the punches and brought an awesome sense of humor to the conversation. I have a hard time resisting the charm of folks who aren’t afraid to take a good-humored jab back, so I offered them a small concession for when I wrote about their distillery: as a sign of good faith and in deference to their position on the contentious issue of spelling, (and also because I’m a little afraid of anyone who would intentionally create a spirit like this) for the duration of this post I will call it whiskey with an e. The spelling was carefully deliberated by visionary Bryan Davis and longtime business-partner/romantic-companion Joanne Haruta. They settled on that spelling to further distinguish their peated American whiskey from the traditionally peated Scottish product. Standing out from the crowd is a welcome theme here, and the spirit’s unusual constitution, from the wooden “log-and-copper still” to the Canadian-sourced peat, certainly deserves a little extra distinction.

As far as movies go, horror is not a genre for everyone, and for me, Lost Spirits’ whiskey is like the liquor version of torture-porn. It’s just so crazy that I can’t look away. I have to find out what happens next. Wait… what’s that guy doing with that blow-torch?!Ahhhhh!!! After adding a heaping dose of water, which I highly recommend, this could also be a Spaghetti Western; unapologetic, wild and lawless. Each sip confronts you with two hours worth of tumble weeds, senseless dueling on dusty boardwalks and people getting kicked in the stomach by horses. What will the next cask of this be like, because while all of their bottlings are completely untamed, the production here is so small that all of their whiskey is single cask by virtue of not having a tun that’s big enough to mix multiple casks. That means their bottlings number in the very low hundreds with lots of variation from release to release.

Cigar Malt Taintpunch


A while ago, Dalmore tried to cater to the cigar crowd by releasing a bottle called “Cigar Malt.” I thought that one was alright but extremely overpriced and probably not as good as they thought it was for sharing with a cigar. Lost Spirits just delivered a swift taintpunch to those clowns, with what I would consider to be a true “cigar malt”; one that would probably hold up much better being served on the patio with a nice, Dominican Robusto than neat and isolated in a sterile nosing lab. Now, I’m not really into smoking, but if you’re one of those people who dig a dank stogie, then this is whiskey you should seek out above all others. As it turns out, Davis is an avid cigar smoker, which may just explain the density of terror and violence he prepares his spirits with.

If you need a good reason to visit, besides the freakishly huge whiskey, there are few places on the planet more beautiful than Monterey County. Nestled between ice plant littered ocean front, redwood forests and chaparral California hills, Monterey County is the middle point on the drive from Morro Bay to San Francisco, which is a bucket-list worthy adventure up the 1. Second only to Big Sur, this might just be the coolest stop along the way. They found an awesome spot to exercise their craft, one I am extremely envious of.

Nose: Snuffed pipe tobacco and Heath bar. Dried moss and cherry tree bark. The interior of an old-timey western saloon and the whiskey or tequila they would serve there, with sandalwood and lots of desert gore. Blood pouring over the dirt floor of an abandoned Utah cellar where dark, terrible things are happening. Stomach acid stalks the finish on the nose. Malt waits until the coast is clear before breaking out the oatmeal cookies. Traces of bandage and menthol. Very young; I’d be very interested to see what the new make smells like and how much of this character is the spirit itself as opposed to the cask.

Palate: Citrus laced tobacco and sage. Hot, hot, hot. Salted, bloodied chocolate races past followed closely by a man with a rubber mask, a brass-handled knife and a smudge stick. Metallic wafts of gunpowder smoke, ACE bandage and bile in the bright, bright finish. It’s herby and nutty, too, like peanut shells and thyme bundles, with a touch of trout skin and a sprinkle of cinnamon from the cookies.

Rating: RiskyI give this rating as lovingly as possible. Would I Recommend this bottle to someone who asked me on the street for a recommendation? Probably not. Believe it or not, this sounds like it’s on the mild end of the spectrum for Lost Spirits and I don’t think Bryan is trying to make a comfortable, socially-acceptable drink. Timid explorers need not apply, I think he’s trekking over new frontier while trying to find an identity for his brainchild, a whiskey you should definitely Drink At Your Own Risk. I hope he can own that assertion with pride. As for horror, personally, I love it and would jump at Lost Spirits’ next mutation in a heartbeat should I find it within reach, however perilous that may be.

Thanks to the awesome folks at Lost Spirits for the bottle! Cheers!!!