As 2017 draws nigh, it’s time for the traditional year end wrap-up, summarizing the highlights of what appeared here over the last 12 months. Some of what follows could be called self-indulgent navel-gazing; reflections on how my writing has evolved. But I contend there’s also value to you, the reader – it provides a broader context for what the site has become. And who knows, you might have missed a relevant post as the world speeds by.
Here at Cocktail Wonk, we pride ourselves on being on the bleeding edge when covering Lost Spirits and Bryan Davis, famous for their hyper-accelerated aging technology using wood, heat and light. Love what they’re doing or call it sacrilege, it’s always interesting to watch their story evolve.
The latest big news in Lost Spirits land is their impressively high scores in Jim Murray’s 2018 Whisky Bible. Quoting from the press release:
Jim Murray’s famous 2018 Whisky Bible has awarded 94 points and its coveted Liquid Gold designation to Lost Spirits Abomination, a peated malt “aged” in just 6 days utilizing Lost Spirits’ revolutionary patented technology….
Lost Spirits entered two peated malts into the judging: Abomination – Crying of the Puma and Abomination – Sayers of the Law. Both started as Scottish malts so young they cannot yet legally be labeled whisky. The spirits were then finished in California over 6 days utilizing Lost Spirits’ revolutionary patented technology. The Crying of the Puma expression nearly also achieved the Liquid Gold designation, scoring 93 points. No additives or flavorings of any kind were utilized from start to finish.
The technology works by exposing oak to high intensity light and heat while suspended in a glass tube filled with unaged or young distilled spirit. The combination of specific wavelengths of light and heat has been proven to trigger the same chemical reactions that happen in casks aged for many years.
My most recent article on Lost Spirits, including tons of photos of their insane, ever evolving Los Angeles distiller can be found here. And for some deep background on the science of spirit flavors, and how Bryan is hacking the aging process, see this article.
In his 1895 book, The Time Machine, H.G. Wells posits a tabletop device that takes people backward and forward in time. Even if you can’t literally travel through time (yet), the ability to compress it has nearly limitless appeal. With his disruptive, rapid aging technology for spirits, Bryan Davis is doing just that: A way of forcing the chemical reactions that occur during barrel aging to happen orders of magnitude faster than Mother Nature would allow in her own sweet time.
It’s no surprise that Davis has latched on to a time machine metaphor for his rapid-aging spirit reactor (“a time machine for booze”), even using it as the title of his TEDx presentation about it. Now, I realize this may be old news to many of you, as the story of Lost Spirits and Bryan has spread far and wide. Stories in Wired, the Huffington Post, and numerous other spirits publications (including yours truly) have told the story many times over.
If there’s one story that’s consistently provided fodder for my ramblings here, it would be Lost Spirits. Their primary claim to fame is a hyper-speed distilled-spirit aging process, the brainchild of mad scientist Bryan Davis. A quick check shows that I’ve done two dozen posts here about Lost Spirits, reaching back to some of my earliest writing. I was thrilled to be the first source to write about the THEA One aging reactor, which has received the attention of the biggest spirits industry players and been covered by Wired, CBS, and other mainstream outlets.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from following Bryan’s story is to expect the unexpected, with frequent twists in the narrative. First, the release of three high-octane rums — Navy Style, Polynesian Inspired, and Cuban Inspired–which grabbed the rum enthusiast market’s attention due to their high powered, intense flavors. Next was the company’s announcement that they would begin licensing their aging process to other distilleries. The technology is embodied in a “reactor” that takes in freshly made spirit and wood and exposes them to heat and intense light; it’s a patented process that results in the claimed net effect of twenty years of barrel aging within a week’s time. Naturally, this put Lost Spirits in the crosshairs of the big, multinational spirits producers as well as upstart distilleries looking for an edge.
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.
Driving through Silicon Valley on U.S. 101, you’d be forgiven if you didn’t notice the southernmost town of Morgan Hill, a dusty bedroom community of 40,000 residents, two freeway exits, a Walmart, and some small vineyards. Mrs. Wonk and I are driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles, with a pit stop tonight in Pismo Beach, and have stopped here for a quick bite before our late-morning meeting. Driving through the town, it’s not quite the kind of place you’d expect a revolution in the distilled spirits industry to originate. However, that’s exactly why we’re here: Today’s agenda is visiting the new Lost Spirits facility, where Bryan Davis and Joanne Haruta are building the first batch of hyper-speed aging reactors that will create the equivalent of twenty years of barrel aging in a week’s time. (Yes, a week.) They’re about to start shipping reactors to distilleries around the U.S., and Joanne and Bryan have graciously allowed us a sneak peek.