E Pluribus Unum: Lost Spirits Confounds Expectations Yet Again

LS Mea Culpa

It takes a brave–and possibly mad–person to name their latest project “Mea Culpa Rum.” Yet that’s exactly what Bryan Davis just did, posting the label image recently on his Lost Spirits Technology/ Distillery Facebook page. Longtime readers of this site know that I’ve spent an obsessive amount of time over the past two years keeping close tabs on the Lost Spirits story. Starting with their bold, polarizing rums (Navy Style, Polynesian Inspired, and Cuban Inspired), through the science of rum flavors and barrel aging, and onto licensing the amazing THEA One aging reactors to upstart distilleries, Lost Spirits has been an ever-changing story covered by major news outlets like Wired and CBS News. So it’s with a certain amount of pride that I can say this site covered it first and the most in-depth.

When I last wrote about lost Spirits in September 2015, I had been present for the unveiling of Santeria rum, made for Rational Spirits of Charleston, South Carolina– the first reactor licensee. A few months later, a second licensee called Rattleback received their reactor. Behind the scenes, Bryan and his partner, Joanne Haruta, were continuing to sign up yet more licensees while evolving the reactor design to process larger quantities of spirits. I chatted occasionally with Bryan during this time, naively assuming that he’d be busy for a while building reactors and helping new licensees get underway with their technology. Sure, there were occasional only-in-Lost-Spirits-land elements–like working with an actual Santeria priest to bless Rational’s reactor–but not enough to warrant a full news flash here.

Fast forward to April 2016, when I learned that Bryan and Joanne had packed up their Morgan Hill and Salinas, CA operations, and moved to Charleston. In checking with Bryan, there were several factors at play: First, his plan to license reactors to potentially hundreds of licensees had caused a stir among the bigger players in the spirits industry—as one would imagine. Second, Bryan was spending a fortune and more time than initially expected bringing new licensee’s distillation techniques in line for optimal THEA aging. A hard left turn was called for.

In the latest incarnation, Lost Spirits, along with the two existing licensees (Rational Spirits and Rattleback) have joined forces in a business partnership, working out of the newly built Rational Spirits distillery in Charleston. As Bryan describes it, the new operation is a Willy Wonka laboratory of interesting experiments and associated spirits releases. With backing from Brian’s recent investors, as well as Rational Spirits’ Founder Alexander Burns and the folks at Rattleback, Bryan has far more flexibility than when funded from the sale of Lost Spirits rums alone.

The distillery, currently equipped with two THEA reactors and a third coming online soon, is already hard at work producing new batches of Santeria, easily identified by its new white label. As for the Mea Culpa, it’s planned as a hyper-limited release for Bounty Hunter Spirits customers who had placed orders for the Lost Spirits Colonial Inspired rum but still haven’t received it; in the hustle of creating the reactor business, a second batch of Colonial Inspired wasn’t delivered as promised. The first releases of Rattleback Rye (in possibly two finishes) are also underway.

Looking forward, Bryan shared a few tidbits of potential future releases and wacky, highly intriguing experiments. A Rational Spirits Cuban Inspired 151 (an evolution of the original Lost Spirits expression) is a possibility, as is a charcoal filtered “blanco” version. There may also be distillate from a particular Islay distillery spending some quality time in Charleston. Bryan also outlined some new, most unusual wood charring techniques, as well as the possibility of using oak varieties that aren’t sufficiently watertight for use in barrels, but may work just fine in the THEA reactor.

Personally, when I first learned of the Lost Spirits plan to license reactors, I was a bit sad because I knew it would curtail or eliminate their unusual and innovative releases. However, I was also excited to see how the wide availability of rapid aging might change the spirits industry. With the most recent direction (i.e. the consolidation of the companies), they’re back (somewhat) to where they were originally, albeit with a lot more funding and with a modern distillery at their disposal. The rums, whiskeys, and “who knows what” may not be official Lost Spirits releases, but the crazy, “Why not?” perspective Bryan lives and breathes should continue to provide a stream of interesting releases and keep me busy covering the latest twists in this most unusual story.

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