Longtime readers of this blog know I’m a big proponent of Lost Spirits rum. From his tiny distillery in the agricultural farmland of central California, distiller Bryan Davis has been putting on a fireworks show of rum science, using proprietary, patented techniques to create intensely flavored, high-proof rums that emphasize specific flavor characteristics that he wants to showcase. So far this year Lost Spirits has already put out three rums which I’ve covered extensively: Navy Style, Polynesian Inspired, and Cuban Inspired. As I write this, the release of a fourth rum, dubbed Colonial American Inspired and exclusively available through Bounty Hunter Wine and Spirits, is imminently available. With that in mind, I had a long conversation with Bryan about what’s new and unique with the Colonial American Inspired rum. As usual after talking with Bryan, my brain was filled with dozens of factoids and anecdotes that take hours to fully process. Here’s what I learned.
First let’s address the elephant in the room – the price tag. While prior Lost Spirits releases are available in the $45 range, the Colonial American Inspired comes in at an attention grabbing $100. Given its relatively tiny production– just 225 bottles or about a barrel’s worth–it’s not a commodity item. Bounty Hunter asked for a price point that would allow a profit with just the few hundred bottles to sell. With that in mind, Bryan set out to up the Lost Spirits game to justify the cost.
To truly understand what’s new in the Colonial American Inspired, you have to understand how its predecessors such as the Navy Style are created. A big part of Lost Spirits’ wizardry is the aging. Traditional rum aging uses basic charred oak barrels and takes many years for several organic processes to occur which create the eventual flavors. Bryan has hacked those processes via a host of unconventional treatments. Bryan won’t say exactly how long it takes, but given how quickly he’s produced four different rums in the past year, it’s obvious that the barrel time is less than a year (or is it?) 11/2015 update: Bryan has since shared quite a bit more information. Read it here.
Now, here’s where it gets really interesting. This next part was completely new to me, despite having had many conversations with Bryan. There are four different treatments for his oak barrels–let’s call these treatments A, B, C and D, each focused on a particular aging transformation. Some barrels do the A aging, some the B aging, and so on. Unfortunately he can’t reveal exactly what they are, but based on prior conversations it’s safe to assume that rancio creation is one of those processes. (Rancio is the nutty flavor you tastes in sherry and very long-aged spirits.) Prior to the Colonial American Inspired rum, Bryan ages some portion in A barrels, another portion in B barrels, and so on. When all the aging has completed, Bryan blends the A, B, C and D-aged components together to form the final product, e.g. the Navy Style rum.
For the Colonial American Inspired, things take a new route. Bryan has supercharged his processing, essentially daisy-chaining the aging steps together, something he’s dubbed the “2.0 process.” Rather than dividing the rum, aging subsets in four different ways, and then blending them back together, this 2.0 process runs the entire batch through the A-aging step, then the B-aging step, and so forth. The end result is that the entire batch of rum sees all the aging steps. That by itself isn’t a particularly innovative idea – it would just take longer. However, a naive movement of the rum through the four barrel types can produce something pretty bad – Bryan called it “wood-derived nail polish remover.” The conversion process that happens in C-aging might adversely affect the rum character after its B-aging, for example. What Bryan does is nowhere near as simple as a sequential visit to each barrel type. The trick to the 2.0 process is knowing the order of steps in which to apply a particular aging process. It also required the discovery that certain aging steps need to be repeated. Being able to do chemical analysis on his rums after each step is a big help in figuring out the eventual path to a successful process.
If you squint your eyes, the Lost Spirits 2.0 processing model is somewhat like a solera. Solera aging is used for sherry production and for certain rums including Ron Zacapa. Essentially a solera is a system of barrels, with each barrel (or groups of barrels) categorized from newest to oldest. Freshly distilled spirits always go into the newest barrels. At intervals, some subset of each barrel is transferred to an older barrel. The spirits in the oldest barrel are what’s extracted from the solera for bottling, and it’s in these last barrels that the rancio component is introduced. The net effect of the solera system is that within each barrel, there’s a mix of newer and older spirits, and the output of the solera is fairly consistent, changing very slowly over time despite possible big difference in the newly distilled rum going into the newest barrels. The Lost Spirits 2.0 process isn’t exactly a solera process by the traditional definition, but you can see the similarities: The rum flows through a series of barrels, picking up different attributes as it migrates through the full set.
How does the Colonial taste? At 62% alcohol, it’s likely a bit strong for most people to sip neat. Although I’ve not yet had it, Bryan describes it along the lines of “chocolate-dipped plums rolled in espresso powder.” Bryan also notes that he’s worked to keep the ethyl acetate component down – ethyl acetate is the ester that’s perceived to have a “nail polish remover” smell. Does it taste colonial inspired? Well that’s a tough question to answer since we don’t really have a great collective sense of what American colonial era rums tasted like. The label makes a nod to this, saying, “NOTE: THIS PROBABLY TASTES A LOT BETTER THAN COLONIAL RUM DID.”
In prior posts, I’ve noted that the Navy Style and Polynesian Inspired rums start out using the same recipe, starting with a dunder mash recipe that uses bananas, while the Cuban Inspired rum uses a different recipe. The Colonial American Inspired rums starts with the same recipe as the Navy and Polynesian, but it then goes through the 2.0 aging process. It’s only logical to consider running the Cuban Inspired recipe through the 2.0 process—thus it’s not at all surprising that Bryan’s already done just that. We can look forward to another Lost Spirits limited release next year from Caskers, bringing the total to five. And when the Anejo Blanco rum arrives, that’ll be six – mighty impressive for a three-person distillery that still does nearly everything by hand.
I’ve not yet sampled the Colonial American Inspired, but that may change within days. I’ll update this post with my thoughts after I’ve had some time with it.