Colonial American Inspired Rum – The next level of rum wizardry from Lost Spirits Distillery

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.
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Lunar Tiki: The Ganymede Cocktail

Recently I visited Jason Alexander at the Tacoma Cabana – a frequent experience, to be honest. On this visit, he was super excited about a new drink he’d just created. After experimenting unsuccessfully with a number of recipes, including the classic Saturn cocktail, one experiment just clicked. I of course ordered it and had to agree, it’s damn good! Jason named it the Ganymede, a reference to the largest moon of Saturn. It’s a great name, even though the recipe now looks nothing like the original inspiration.

The Ganymede recipe calls for the Lost Spirits Navy Style rum which is becoming somewhat easier to find, but still may not be readily available to you. In the event you can’t source it where you are, a dark overproof like Lemon Hart 151 or Plantation Original Dark (146 proof) may work for you. Jason also thinks a combination of Cruzan Single Barrel and Coruba Dark might work.

Ganymede
  • 0.5 oz lime juice
  • 0.5 oz punch mix (recipe below)
  • 0.5 oz honey syrup (1:1 honey and water)
  • 0.25 oz falernum (house made, preferably)
  • 0.25 oz blackberry liqueur
  • 2 oz Lost Spirits Navy Style rum (68%)

Shake over ice, pour into double Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with flowers, mint, etc.
The punch mix will take a little time to make in advance, but it’s worth it. It’s essentially Jason’s variation of Jasper’s Secret Mix from Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails:
Punch Mix
  • 8 oz sugar
  • 8 oz lime juice
  • 1 oz Angostura bitters
  • 1/2 nutmeg, grated

Combine all ingredients, stir till sugar dissolves. Stir occasionally until the nutmeg is completely dissolved (may be a few hours).
As a bonus for crafting the punch mix, you can now easily make Jasper’s Rum Punch:
Jasper’s Rum Punch
  • 1.5 oz Wray and Nephew Overproof rum
  • 1.5 oz punch mix

Shake over ice.

Lost Spirits Distillery continues its streak with Colonial American Inspired Rum

During my recent visit to Lost Spirits, Bryan Davis mentioned this project, but I had no idea it was coming this soon. I figured he’d get Anejo Blanco Cuban style rum out the door first.

Today Bryan posted a link: http://www.bountyhunterwine.com/product.asp?ic=1SLSDNVRU3BH

Assuming we see it this year (and hopefully we will) that’ll be four releases in less than 12 months:

  • Navy Style
  • Polynesian Inspired
  • Cuban Inspired 
  • Colonial American Inspired

If nothing else, they’re covering the map with rum releases.

Coming in at 62 percent ABV, I predict the Colonial American is going to be another monster. More details as soon as I get them, which may be as soon as this weekend.

The Jungle Bird Goes to War

The War Bird
The Jungle Bird is a relatively recent addition to the Tiki canon, originating at the Aviary Bar in the Kuala Lumpur Hilton in 1978. It’s solidly identifiable as Tiki, and the beginner home bartender can execute it without all sorts of “exotic” ingredients that show up in more complex Tiki drinks, such as falernum, orgeat, or pimento dram. Like many Tiki drinks, the Jungle Bird recipe has evolved over time, and I’m continuing the tradition here.

As it appears in Beachbum Berry’s Remixed, the Jungle Bird recipe goes like this:

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Lost Over Jamaica – Jet Pilot inspired Tiki

Lost Over Jamaica tiki drink
Lost Over Jamaica

Of all the classic Tiki drinks (and I can seriously wonk out over the 1944 Mai Tai), a well-executed Jet Pilot with its mix of falernum, rich cinnamon syrup, and Jamaican rum funk is Tiki Valhalla. A descendant of Don the Beachcomber’s “Test Pilot,” the name personifies the ethos of the jet-age 1950s, but also conveys the slight preemptive warning that this drink “goes to 11.”
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Of Goliaths and Dragons – A visit to Lost Spirits Distillery

Lost Spirits Warehouse – Wonderful secrets within!

It’s 5 PM on the Friday of Labor Day weekend. I find myself not manning a grill or lounging in the sun on a Santa Cruz beach, but rather, driving a rental car through the agricultural fields of Monterey County, California. Into Castroville we go, past the giant artichoke, and back out into more farmland. Mrs. Wonk and I are headed to visit Lost Spirits Distillery, one of the more unconventional and unconventionally located distilleries you’ll likely come across.

A bit of backstory before continuing: Lost Spirits has quickly made a name for itself in just a few years, producing first whiskeys and then rums that win awards and cause spirit aficionados to gush about the incredibly bold flavors and unusual production techniques. The very short synopsis is this:   Distiller and co-owner Bryan Davis is a biochemistry hacker who deeply understands the chemistry of spirits flavor and has developed a number of innovations to hyper-accelerate the production process and accentuate whatever flavor profile he targets in a given release. I’ve written quite a bit about Lost Spirits in the past, so will simply point you to a few recent posts that contain a large amount of scientific details:

The picture doesn’t do Goliath’s size justice.

After a few turns away from the coastline and inward toward the artichoke fields, we pull up to a brick and wood gate. Without the GPS we might never have found it. James, the distillery’s only
employee beyond Bryan and partner/co-owner Joanne Haruta (and Joanne’s brother), opens the gate and we pull in. As I exit the car, an enormous German shepherd wanders up and begins to take my spot in the driver’s seat before being called off. Goliath is 140 pounds and I imagine a very effective guard dog when called upon. He takes an instant liking to us, rolling on the ground for belly rubs.  (Never mind that he could likely pin any of us to the ground with little trouble…)

Fermentation vat platform on the left. The still is behind it in this photo.

A scan of the surrounding grounds shows the distillery property surrounded by fences and walls; beyond in all directions is agricultural land, with the nearest building way off in the distance. To the left is what we came to see:  A raised, covered platform with a very large dragon head and neck sculpture attached to one end, as if it were the bow of a Viking ship. (More on this—the Lost Spirits still—a bit later.) Directly in front of us is a small stucco barn, the Lost Spirits logo hand-painted on the doors. Between the two structures is a cement walkway and a Japanese-style garden in-progress, including an above-ground swimming pool. To the right is a single-story structure, housing the small tasting room used for the occasional tour and tasting, but also where Bryan and Joanne stay sometimes when working late.

Steam vents from the dragon’s mouth – Quite a sight, especially at night.

But, back to that dragon head. As I approach the tarp-covered platform, I can see the spirit production process laid out linearly from left to right. First is the raised platform, upon which sits a unique square wood and copper vat.  The vat holds a dark, thick liquid which I correctly guess is molasses–a batch of Polynesian-inspired rum is just starting, slowly warmed by coils to aid the eventual fermentation process.

Copper fermentation vat on pedestal.
Baking grade molasses warming up on its way to becoming rum!

Moving to the right, you see the unusual looking still – It doesn’t look anything like those used in Scottish distilleries or like the shiny copper and chrome bulb-headed stills you might find in many modern distilleries. The Lost Spirits still is relatively small at 600 gallons and was constructed by Bryan out of sheets of copper roofing.

Current homemade copper still at Lost Spirits Distillery.

Still cap, found on Ebay.

Prior to our visit, I had learned from Bryan that he had studied sculpture, and now seeing the still and its dragon head, it suddenly made sense: Bryan has a very strong “build it yourself” ethos. In fact, the Lost Spirits site itself was originally not much more than a “mud pit” with a small building on it, as Joanne described it. Joanne and Bryan spent an enormous amount of their own time preparing the land, pouring concrete and building things by hand to get their distillery going.

Lyne arm, headed to the cooling coils/mock spirits safe.

Continuing to the right, a mock “spirits safe” like those used in Scottish distilleries is fed by a long lyne arm resembling a dragon’s tail coming off the top of the still. It’s in this area that the distillate is cooled before being piped over to an area to the far right, where it’s collected in tanks. The tank area is off limits to everyone, including yours truly–a requirement for the patent process that’s under way for several of Bryan’s innovations.

But what about that dragon? It’s more than just an idle curiosity. Both the fermentation vat and still are heated by steam created via natural gas powered boilers. In a stroke of good luck, the land where the distillery is located is very close to a natural gas distribution point. As a result, the boiler used to heat the still and vat costs only a few dollars an hour to run. And what of all the steam that’s created? It’s piped over to the dragon head where it emerges from the mouth, a very impressive sight when the boilers are running full out, and even more so after dark, when it’s lit from below.  Needless to say, a few gawkers pull off the road to peer over the fence when the still is running at full power.

Japanese-style garden with pool in near background.

As for the swimming pool, it has its own interesting if unfortunate story. In the past it was used as a giant source of cooling water for the still operations, and could reach temperatures of up to 105 F, creating the side benefit of an oversized hot tub. Unfortunately, at one point the pool developed a leak, and when the water mixed with the underground organic materials, TCA (aka cork rot) was formed. TCA is a foul-smelling compound that can completely ruin wines and spirits in very small quantities. To make a long story short, the TCA found its way into Lost Spirits’ original wooden still, rendering it useless, which is why Bryan and Joanne now use a copper still.

Prior to my visit, I had obtained two of the Lost Spirits whiskeys, the Leviathan III and the Seascape II. Both are in short supply and I asked Bryan why he didn’t simply make more to capitalize on the demand. He mentioned a few reasons: For starters, rum is easier to produce. Most of the hard work of processing grain for whiskey (including moving it around and milling it) aren’t required with molasses, which he buys from a supplier. Also, the fermentation for some of the whiskeys uses salt water. While the salt water helps create a better environment for distillation, it’s hell on the stills and other equipment. As Bryan related to me, the Scotch distilleries in Islay replace their stills far more frequently than other Scottish distilleries, and Bryan speculates that salt water in their mash is at least partially responsible.

A new batch of empty bottles has arrived!

After quite a long time exploring the main production area, we wandered over to the barn area. Much as I wanted to see the barrels and goodies within, it’s also off-limits for now due to those patent law requirements. Instead, we stood around palettes of molasses buckets and boxes of soon-to-be-filled bottles while Bryan told us all sorts of interesting stories and factoids about the distillery, potential future projects, and general spirits industry scuttlebutt. Eventually we made our way into the tasting room/laboratory where we continued to chat while tasting some of Lost Spirit’s exceedingly rare products, including the Fire Dance whiskey and the (hopefully soon) forthcoming Anejo Blanco rum, which is based on the current Cuban-inspired rum.

I’ve toured a number of distilleries, big and small, as part of my interest in spirits. I’ve seen my share of big warehouse buildings, enormous vats, and gleaming stills. The Lost Spirits distillery is the opposite of that, reminding you that in the not-too-distant past, spirits production used to be just another agricultural process, and not a particularly glamorous one at that. It becomes clear that while basic distillation of consumable spirits isn’t rocket science, the bio-hacking that Lost Spirits performs behind the scenes makes all the difference between a $10 bottle of whiskey or rum swill and something that blows you away with its flavors and intensity.

Clockwise from left: Cocktail Wonk, Bryan Davis, Joanne Haruta, Goliath.

Although we were lucky enough to be invited to the Monterey compound for a tour, the Lost Spirits distillery is not currently open to the public for tastings or tours.

It’s National Rum Day!

Here in the U.S. it’s National Rum Day! A fine time to celebrate rums and the U.S. contributions to their history. The photo above is my current, ever-expanding lineup of 100% American born and bred rum. Bull Run Distillery, Sun Liquor Distillery, Lost Spirits Distillery, Eastside Distilling, and House Spirits are represented, bu there are many more great American rums.

Here are some way to celebrate!

The Hottest Tot North of Havana – Lost Spirits Cuban Inspired Rum

Lost Spirits Cuban Inspired Rum

Given the number of posts I’ve written about Lost Spirits Rums (including this, and this), you might think I’m a bit obsessed – and you’d be right. However, the crazy amount of behind the scenes information Bryan Davis has shared with me, plus the aggressive release schedule of three different rums with more in the pipeline, begs to be written about. I’ve just received a sample of their third release, the Cuban Inspired Rum, and am sipping a daiquiri made with it as I write this. If you’re unfamiliar with the Lost Spirits story, I highly suggest starting here for context, as I’m moving fast in this post.

Continue reading “The Hottest Tot North of Havana – Lost Spirits Cuban Inspired Rum”

Lost Spirits Distillery to tweak their Navy Style rum, release at least two Cuban style rums

 

The second Lost Spirits Cuban Style label, showing 47% ABV, being sampled at Tales of the Cocktail

The folks at Lost Spirits Distillery let loose a surprise for their fans at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans this week. About a month ago they teased their upcoming Cuban Style Rum by posting a picture of the label on their Facebook feed, the label stating the rum as 151 proof. Much more recently, their Facebook feed mentioned they weren’t able to take the 151 proof rum on the plane to New Orleans for Tales. However, the accompanying photo showed a very similar label, but this label stating 47% ABV (94 proof) with the additional words “Anejo Blanco”, which I take to mean aged, then filtered to remove the color. Subsequent photos on Facebook show those 47% bottles in New Orleans, where the Lost Spirits folks are giving them away bottles to some lucky folks. What I’m hearing is that Lost Spirits will release both Cuban versions, albeit with the Anejo Blanco version coming in at 45% ABV on the shelf.

In discussing the Cuban style with Bryan, he’s shared a few more details about its making. To summarize:

  • Different distillation practices, which I take to mean adjusting the heads/tails cut.
  • Neutral fermentation environment, which I interpret to mean not nitrogen depriving the yeast.
  • The wood aging plays a stronger part of the flavor, relative to the prior rums.
  • They put a lot of effort into preparing the barrels prior to let “…as many different parts of the oak to sing as possible.”

(I will update this as I learn more and get a bottle of the Cuban to try out.)

In other news, one of my earlier posts on the Navy Style rum failed to mention an interesting side-note from my conversation with Bryan. Currently the Navy Style is available in two strengths: 68% and 55%. Bryan said the 55% was a concession to make a version easier sell to bars, where higher proof rums are often considered too expensive to use in mainstream cocktails.

The Lost Spirits 55% version is a bit of an oddball – while it’s called Navy “style,” it’s not technically navy proof. To be navy proof, a spirit has to be 114 proof (57% ABV). The reason for this is that if a navy proof spirit leaks in into the gunpowder stores, it won’t prevent the gunpowder from igniting. The 55% ABV version is just 2% short of being navy proof, and Bryan’s indicated that future releases will be at 57% so that it can be deemed navy proof.

Lost Spirits Distillery’s new Polynesian Inspired Rum, and a Polynesian Paralysis variation

Lost Spirits Polynesian Inspired Rum
Polynesian Paralysis, Jason Alexander variation

Having recently gotten my hands on the Polynesian Inspired rum from Lost Spirits Distillery, I’ve been test driving it and comparing it to their first rum, Navy Style. I’ve written about Lost Spirits quite a bit already, and have chatted with Bryan quite a bit about his process, including him giving me a custom presentation of his talk from the 2014 Miami Rum Renaissance. With the context of my previous post (highly suggested background reading) I can better describe the differences between the two rums. I’ll end with a few other interesting anecdotes about Lost Spirits Distillery that Bryan shared.

Polynesian Inspired Rum

Coming in at 132 proof, the Polynesian Inspired rum is a take-no-prisoners powerhouse of a rum. Starting with the label, there are obvious stylistic similarities between the Polynesian and the Navy rums. The Polynesian label is essentially the Navy label’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” ships and skulls replaced with Maori and Easter Island elements, and a color change. The fonts and other decorative details remain essentially the same.

The rum’s hue is a solid medium-to-dark gold, but compared to its Navy Style stable mate is noticeably lighter in color. On the nose both rums start with a similar strong, pleasing molasses element but eventually go in different directions, the Polynesian finishing a bit lighter and fruitier. This isn’t an accident. When deciding what the Polynesian should be, Bryan accented the pineapple aspect since it’s an essential Polynesian flavor.

In my prior post about Lost Spirits, I covered the seven ways that flavor can be controlled via science. The sixth step I mentioned is barrel aging, which is where the simpler fruit and spicy smelling esters get merged into the longer chained honey esters. In that post, I described how the ester Ethyl Butyrate has a strong pineapple smell. Given that you want a rum with a strong pineapple element it’s reasonable that you’d want to minimize the transformation of this ester into other esters. Bryan accomplishes this by using a different barrel preparation that minimizes the amount of phenols that convert the short chain esters (fruity) into long chain esters (honey). In addition, the amount of rancio, the nutty smell described in step 7 of my earlier post is dialed down considerably. Up to the barrel aging step though, the Navy Style and Polynesian Inspired rums are essentially the same.

On the palate, assuming you’re up to sipping 132 proof rum, the Polynesian is much like you’d expect given the nose – A strong molasses flavor that turns to pineapple and butterscotch. Bryan says with a few drops of water it turns into a “pineapple bomb” and I can attest to that.

A few days after my bottle arrived, Jason Alexander of Tacoma Cabana and I sat together and tasted the Polynesian together. Jason, with his encyclopedic Tiki knowledge immediately thought it would work well in a Polynesian Paralysis variation. A few days later he sent me his recipe:

Polynesian Paralysis – Jason Alexander Variation
• 3/4oz pineapple
• 3/4oz lemon
• 3/4oz Lilikoi juice (sub passion fruit syrup)
• 1/2oz orgeat
• 1/2oz falernum
• 1/2oz Okolehao (A Hawaiian spirit, sub bourbon if not available.)
• 2oz Lost Spirits Polynesian Rum

Flash blend with about a cup of ice

Lost Spirits – Diving Deeper

Beyond just getting a custom presentation of the Bryan’s Rum Renaissance presentation, I interjected a number of questions that veered off into other interesting topics. First and foremost, I was surprised to learn that Lost Spirits has a number of patents filed on his processes, and that Bryan licenses technology and consults for major distillers. In a sense Lost Spirits Distillery is his laboratory where he gets to do all sorts of fun experiments without needing the distillery to make a certain amount of money to stay afloat.

Lost Spirits first came out with a series of whiskeys including three different Leviathan releases and an Umami release. The distillery continues to age more whiskey stock and they have plenty of back orders, so naturally the question is “Why make a rum?” The initial reason Bryan and Joanne Haruta, his business partner started making rum was to season their whiskey barrels. Over time they found themselves enjoying the rum quite a bit and they decided to sell it. These days they find themselves focusing more and more on the rum side of things. Bryan says one reason for focusing on rum is that high end whiskey buyers typically buy just a bottle or two and add it to their 600 bottle collection whereas serious rum lovers will buy and consume multiple bottles over time.

As we now know, Cuban is the next rum style coming from Lost Spirits. However Bryan also mentioned an interest in doing a “Jamaican ester bomb” which I immediately endorsed with all available enthusiasm. But don’t expect a clone of Jamaican dunder rum, as one of the central elements of Jamaican dunder is clostridium saccharobutyricum which grows optimally in the soil surrounding the dunder pit. Bryan grows his “dunder” in five gallon plastic buckets that are controlled with lab grown bacterias, and thus he has the freedom to control the bacteria, tailoring it to the flavor profile he wants. In Jamaica, dunder pits aren’t such a big deal at the distilleries. In Monterey County, CA a bacteria pit is out of the question as it might create some serious problems with the health inspector.

When deciding what style of rum to make, here’s the Lost Spirits process:
• Design a really cool label
• Based on the label, envision what the rum tastes like
• Do the science to produce a rum with that flavor profile.

In my post on Lost Spirits Navy Style rum, I said “You can easily imagine a pirate drinking it in the 1700s.” Thus, it delighted me then when Bryan recounted that they watched Pirates of the Caribbean approximately 40 times when deciding what the Navy Style should taste like.

For the Polynesian, Bryan set out to make a rum that’s perfect for all sorts of Tiki drinks. Another reason for doing the Polynesian rum is to show that the notion of molasses “terroir” isn’t nearly as important as some believe. Starting with the same ingredients and by tweaking just a few processes, Lost Spirits Distillery has created two largely different rums, and a third rum, the soon to be available Cuban style, should further prove this point.