The Cocktail Wonk Top Ten Stories of 2016

While 2016 was a year many would have gladly skipped, here in the Cocktail Wonk corner of the boozy blogosphere, it’s been gangbusters for great experiences and stories. As I wrote my 2015 roundup post a year ago, I wasn’t altogether convinced that 2016 would be able to top it. Boy, was I wrong!

Over the past twelve months, I’ve written fewer straight-up spirit reviews and cocktail recipes and more long form essays. It’s taken a while to get to that level. The opportunities for unknown stories and fresh takes on topics are there to be found, but it requires waiting for the right contacts and opportunities to fall into place, as they did this year.

What follows is my take on the most important topics I covered this year. It’s an entirely subjective ranking on my part, without regard to actual page visit statistics. Some entries represent a single post that particularly resonated with readers, while others are a collection of posts.  Hyperlinks to the original posts are interspersed in the descriptions below.

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Age Statements: Not Always Worth the Paper They’re Printed On?

A friend recently asked me for a recommendation for a decent quality Islay whisky. Hitting an online site to see what’s available locally, I came up with Laphroaig 10, Bowmore 12, and Ardbeg 10–all good candidates and priced within a few dollars of each other. Sending him the list, I braced for the inevitable question: “All things being equal, why wouldn’t I get the twelve year? It’s better than a ten year, right?”

While it’s true that the time a spirit spends aging has a huge impact on the resulting flavor, an attempt to reduce the complicated factors and interactions that go on inside a barrel to a single number is a hopeless oversimplification that confuses consumers. Spirit production and the resulting flavor is complicated and messy, and not readily quantifiable in every dimension. Sure, you can compare the alcohol by volume (ABV) content across two whiskies, but ten years of aging from Producer X may be vastly different than ten years of aging done by Producer Y.  Unfortunately, this fixation on aging as reduced to digits leads some producers to play a numbers game, putting big numbers on their label to draw the eye of an unsuspecting consumer.

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Days of Dunder: Setting the Record Straight on Jamaican Rum’s Mystery Ingredient

Hogo. Funk. The smell of overripe banana. Jamaican rum is uniquely beloved in the spirits world for its powerful, easily identifiable pungent fruitiness. Connoisseurs of Jamaican funk utter phrases like “high ester count” and “long fermentation.” But nothing gets the rum nerd more enthused than talk of “dunder,” the mysterious ingredient that allegedly makes Jamaican rum extra funky.

Exactly what comprises dunder is shrouded in mystery, but dig around a bit and you’ll find references to goat heads, dead bats, and worse, churning in a lethal, volatile mass of evil death stored in an earthen pit, presumably somewhere near the distillery for easy access. Heck, even I’m guilty of spreading these tales. Throw a few scoops of this black death into the molasses wash, and voila! Instant hogo. Or so many people think. The reality is far less simple—and way more interesting.

As part of an ACR tour of Rum Industry influencers, including Martin Cate, Camper English, Peter Holland, and Wayne Curtis, I received an intense, behind the scenes look at Hampden Estate, ground zero of high-hogo rums. Standing in the hot, dimly lit fermentation area with distillery manager Vivian Wisdom, we grilled him for nearly an hour on every aspect of how the wash that goes into Hampden’s stills is created. No detail was spared: Fermentation times, pH levels, quantities, we wanted to know all.

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Unveiling the THEA One Aging Reactor from Lost Spirits

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.

Heading up into the foothills on the outskirts of town, the houses grow noticeably larger and more upscale, almost certainly owned by tech money seeking a nice view in a quiet town. Soon enough, the GPS indicates we’ve arrived, though it seems hard to trust the GPS, at first– the house before us is relatively new, quite large, and well-appointed in a suburban McMansion sort of way, a far cry from the dusty and artistic Lost Spirit Distillery in Salinas, which we visited last year. I soon spot a large red pirate flag waving near the front door. Having known Bryan for a while, the flag is a dead giveaway that we’ve found the right place.

As we approach the front door, a computerized female voice welcomes us. Peering through the glass over the front door, a white dragon (reminiscent of Lost Spirits’ original dragon-head copper still in Salinas) wrapped around the entry chandelier glares down at us. The house is a combination spirits laboratory, reactor construction site, showroom for potential reactor licensees, and living quarters, complete with pool with diving board, outdoor BBQ deck (and disco mirror ball), and tennis court.

If you’ve somehow managed to miss the recent media coverage of Lost Spirits, here’s the quick synopsis: About five years ago, Bryan and Joanne moved back to the U.S. after spending a few years in Spain making absinthe and gin. Setting up shop on vacant family-owned land near the artichoke fields of Salinas, Bryan built his own stills, first a wooden version, and subsequently copper. They first made heavily peated whiskies, but soon turned their attention to rum. Along the way, Bryan studied the chemical reactions that occur during wooden barrel aging and tinkered with ways to induce the reactions more quickly. The early whiskies used only a fraction of the aging technologies used in the subsequent Navy Style, Polynesian Inspired, and Cuban Inspired rums. All three rums are intensely flavorful and colorful, despite having no added sugar or coloring, and received considerable attention by the rum Illuminati, as well as yours truly.

A subsequent fourth rum, Colonial American Inspired, heralded yet another substantial improvement to the aging process, wherein the whole batch goes through the same steps, rather than each stage acting on only a portion of the whole batch. Although only a few hundred bottles of Colonial Inspired have been made, those bottles have become the showcase for demonstrating what the Lost Spirits aging process is capable of.

In April 2015 at his American Distillers Institute conference talk, Bryan made the head-turning announcement of plans to license the aging technology to other distilleries. Rather than attempting to grow the Lost Spirits business, bottle by bottle of rum, the new Lost Spirits plan is to lease the technology to other distilleries at a massive scale, while providing what could turn out to be a significant license revenue stream to Lost Spirits.

Glass tubes for exposing spirits to intense light

Bryan’s original reactor, used to create the Lost Spirits rums at the Salinas facility, was in no way mobile, being all exposed tubes, valves, tanks, and wiring – completely unsuitable for selling as a turnkey solution. Thus, when he set out to create a licensable reactor, the original plan was to create an all-in-one unit, about the size of an SUV, that simply required hooking up to power and internet. Just add new-make spirits, wood blocks, and electricity, and a few days later, presto! Aged spirits emerge. Originally dubbed the Model 1, the name subsequently changed to THEA One (Targeted Hyper-Esterification Aging), which not coincidentally is a homonym of Theia, the Greek goddess of light.

Since the reactor announcement, Bryan’s largest task has been solving the engineering problems of productizing the reactor units in a way that doesn’t generate excessive heat and passes rigorous safety testing. With a process involving several hundred liters of highly flammable alcohol in breakable glass tubes, any ignition source could be disastrous.

Bryan’s nature is that of a mad inventor, piecing together existing parts and rapidly iterating, solving new design challenges as they pop up. The original goal was that he and a small team would build these reactors, about one per week. Going into it, Bryan didn’t have an exact parts list – instead, he’d order a bunch of sensors, switches, and other elements, testing them all to see what worked best, and evolve the reactor design along the way. One particular challenge was that the largest clear glass tubes available weren’t large enough to hold the required amount of spirits on their own; the solution for the original THEA reactor design was simply to use multiple tubes, making for a very unusual, badass reactor.

Upper portion of THEA One
Bryan’s first THEA reactor looks like a Jules Verne fantasy expressed as a V12 aircraft engine. The unit is about six feet tall, six feet wide, and three feet deep. Your eye is immediately drawn to a vertical phalanx of clear glass tubes, four inches in diameter. Surrounding the tubes on all four sides are square metal boxes roughly three feet wide. Two chrome pipes with an upturned flare at one end run along the top of each row of tubes, evoking the image of an exhaust manifold for the aforementioned aircraft engine.  A smattering of tubing and wires can be seen around the perimeter. Nearby, a keg-sized metal barrel connects to the main reactor chassis via tubing.
THEA One piping at the top
Drains at the bottom of THEA One
Bryan picks up an iPad, touches a few buttons, and suddenly all the tubes are bathed in intense light, turning the sci-fi imagery up to eleven. The light coming from the boxes surrounding the glass tubes is 2.5 times brighter than the noontime sun at the equator. A computerized voice—the same sultry woman who greeted us at the door– begins to emanate from the reactor (shades of HAL 900), introducing itself to the listener and telling its story. On two of the boxes features the Lost Spirits Sphinx logo along with “MODEL 1 AGING REACTOR – DESIGNED AND ASSEMBLED IN SILICON VALLEY CALIFORNIA.” Bryan, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute specializing in sculpture, has a flair for the dramatic. Earlier in our visit, Bryan casually mentioned that he crafted the aforementioned dragon chandelier with nothing more than some extra wire and a few rolls of masking tape while waiting for an early reactor run to complete overnight.  Like you do.
While building the first reactor in the months following the announcement, Bryan discovered that much larger glass tubes were readily available but they would need to be special ordered from Germany. While sorting out the glass tube order with the German company, he learned that pharmaceutical companies run similar equipment using similar raw materials and fabrication techniques—an introduction led from Germany to New Jersey, to new resources.  Knowing this, the reactor design evolved substantially, splitting into several discrete components and utilizing a single giant glass tube. While the original (and only) self-contained THEA One unit won’t be distributed, the improved design allows aging of bigger batches. Equally important, the entire reactor can be constructed by a company specializing in this type of equipment and can be drop-shipped from the fabricator directly to distilleries.
Improved (large tube) version of the Reactor with empty light boxes
Control cabinet for improved reactor
Boxes where light sources are mounted on improved reactor
This improved reactor design has three main components, all connected via wiring and plumbing:
  • A giant, 30-gallon glass tube housed inside a square, tube metal frame. Metal boxes on each side hold dozens of light sources, all aiming inward toward the tube.
  • A metal control cabinet, roughly the size of gym locker, holds the electronic brains and assorted pumps and switches.
  • Three keg-sized metal barrels, with various connections and tubes.

The aging process starts with the addition of charred wooden blocks to some of the metal barrels, as well as into the tube(s).  Next the new-make spirit is added. At that point, the brains of the operation–a Mac Mini housed in the control cabinet–takes over, orchestrating a small army of sensors, valves, pumps, and heaters, measuring and moving the spirit between the barrels and tubes at the appropriate times. An iPad loaded with custom software enables control of the reactor, including powering it on or off and altering aging profiles. The Mac Mini also communicates back to Lost Spirits, allowing Bryan to monitor and control the reactor remotely if necessary.

The aging process typically has four main stages, including (as you’ve probably guessed) shining extremely bright lights at the spirit in a tube. Each stage may take several days. As such, the operational model is that every few days you add a new 30-gallon batch of new-make spirit, while an equivalent amount that started aging a week earlier completes its aging. With 30 gallons present at all four stages, the reactor holds 120 gallons of spirit in total.

The exact order of the stages, as well as how long is spent in each stage, allows the aging profile (and resulting flavor) to be tuned. If you’ve had more than one of the Lost Spirits rums, you’ve seen first-hand how the same new-make spirit can wind up with vastly different flavors after aging, differentiated only by what the aging steps accentuate or diminish. Bryan plans to work with distilleries to craft custom aging profiles for each spirit they age.

A significant amount of reactor development time was spent on safety. For instance, the light boxes generate a substantial amount of heat. At well over 100 proof, the alcohol inside the tube is highly flammable, so preventing fumes from getting into those boxes required substantial problem solving. The reactor has multiple levels of mechanical and electrical safety features and has passed the required safety certification.

Distilleries who license a reactor will pay a fixed cost up front (which covers the cost of producing and shipping the reactor), as well as a monthly licensing fee. It’s expected that the licensing fee, when amortized over the thousands of bottles that a distillery produces monthly, will add very little to the overall cost of the bottle. In theory, distilleries might save money, as they won’t lose anywhere near as much spirit to the angel’s share as with traditional barrel aging.

Bryan puts his reactor aged Colonial Inspired rum up against some heavy hitters when showcasing his technology to prospective licensees.

So far, at least 65 distilleries have expressed interesting in using the reactor including several that have already signed deals. In addition, it’s gained a lot of attention from the large-multinational 800-pound gorillas of the spirits industry – no surprise there! It’s expected that Rational Spirits, a new startup distillery in South Carolina, will be among the first to receive a reactor. In a recent press release, they describe their first product, named Santeria, as a pot-still rum in the heavily funky Jamaican style.

The next year should be very interesting as various distilleries being receiving and shipping reactor-aged spirits to a much broader consumer base than Lost Spirits has reached so far on its own. No matter what happens with the reactor once it starts shipping in volume, interesting stories will no doubt unfold. Stay tuned!

Museum-like exhibits are all around the house
Joanne Haruta, Bryan Davis, Cocktail Wonk

Lost Spirits Rumbles into High Gear: Aging Reactor Release Imminent

After Lost Spirits’ big announcementthis past April that they’d be leasing their revolutionary “reactor” aging technology to other distilleries, owners Bryan Davis and Joanne Haruta have gone mostly dark. To briefly recap their audacious plan as it was announced:

  • An aging process using wood, light, and other techniques to provide the equivalent of fifteen to twenty years of ester/aldehyde transformation (“aging”) in six days. This process has already been demonstrated on their four rum releases.
  • A self-contained reactor, the size of small SUV, delivered to distilleries, who will lease it for a monthly fee.
  • A small handful of carefully selected distilleries for the initial beta test phase.

Continue reading “Lost Spirits Rumbles into High Gear: Aging Reactor Release Imminent”

From Alchemy to Science: Esters, Aldehydes, Mass Spectrometers and Hyper-Accelerated Aging

Life as a Cocktail Wonk isn’t all fabulous bars, spirit reviews, and distillery visits. It’s also countless hours on the internet chasing down esoteric details of brand lineage. Even wonkier are the multi-hour phone conversations I have with the likes of Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits Distillery, who fills my head with huge quantities of organic chemistry and distillation science while I struggle to process it into digestible nuggets in real time. Leading up to his announcement that Lost Spirits will lease their new reactor-aging technology to other distilleries, Bryan has started providing evidence that his week-long wood-aging process can replicate the chemical makeup and flavor profile of a 20-year aged spirit.

In my earliest conversation with Bryan, I asked if he was using technologies like gas chromatography to understand what’s in distilled spirits. His answer then was that many organic compounds of interest are difficult to tease apart with the analytical tools available to him. In the intervening year, with better analysis tools and assistance from experts, he has been able to identify critical flavor creation processes that previously eluded analysis. In some cases he’s found evidence that contradicts the conventional wisdom about where flavor compounds are introduced.

Bryan has generously worked with me for many hours to share his new insights and help me break them down into the simplified explanations– part primer on the science of spirit flavors, and part explanation of the how Lost Spirits is able to prove that their accelerated aging process works. Charts and chemistry will be bandied about, but I promise to be as gentle as I can without losing the critical elements.

Continue reading “From Alchemy to Science: Esters, Aldehydes, Mass Spectrometers and Hyper-Accelerated Aging”

Lost Spirits Distillery’s Aging Reactor Could Transform the Craft Spirits Industry

At the American Distilling Institute conference today (4/1/15), Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits Distillery is announcing they will be making their unique, patented, hyper-speed aging process available to other spirit makers – providing the equivalent of twenty years of barrel aging in a week. No, this isn’t barrel aging with microscopic barrels, and in fact there are no barrels used. The implications of this are profound for the spirits industry. It may sound like an alchemist’s dream of turning lead into gold, but Bryan has the science to back up the claim. A companion post to this story goes into the science of spirit flavors and how Lost Spirits backs up their claims, but for this post, it’s sufficient to know that barrel aging is about transforming organic compounds into more pleasant tasting organic compounds

Before jumping into exactly what Lost Spirits is planning, let’s first review what traditional barrel aging is about. Unlike what many people think, the goal of barrel aging isn’t just to impart a woody flavor to spirits. Instead, the wood both contributes organic compounds to the aging spirit and transforms already existing organic compounds into other organic compounds. Typically referred to as esters and aldehydes, these are what give distilled spirits their taste. (For instance, the ethyl butryate ester has the taste of pineapple, while phenethyl acetate has the taste of honey. When spirits emerge from the still, they’re a soup of mostly organic acids and a few esters, which the barrel aging transforms into other (hopefully flavorful) esters, and a lot more of them.

In an earlier post on this blog, I referenced a white paper on the Lost Spirits website showing gas chromatography charts for a 33-year aged demerara rum. In the simplest terms, the location of spikes on the chart’s X-axis shows the presence of specific flavor compounds, and the height of the spike indicates how much of that compound is present. The presence or absence of spikes, along with their relative heights, provides a “fingerprint” for the spirit. Spirits with similar gas chromatography fingerprints will taste very similar, because essentially they are made of the same stuff.

While the aforementioned paper is interesting in a wonky sort of way, it also set the stage for Bryan to demonstrate the effectiveness of his aging process. (We’ll get to the details of that shortly.) Bryan set out to replicate the signature of this 33-year aged demerara rum using his own distillate and a week-long aging process.The gas chromatograph for the Colonial Inspired Rum (below) shows a similar signature to the 33-year demerara, however its peaks are not as high. That is, the same esters are present, and at the same ratios, although in lower concentrations. Bryan says the Colonial Inspired rum contains about 60 percent of the peak ester and aldehyde levels of the 33-year demerara, corresponding to 20 or so years of aging, assuming the barrel’s ester transformation rate is linear. Put another way, if the 33-year rum had instead been pulled from the barrel after 20 years, it should have a similar profile to .  In short, Lost Spirits has turned twenty years of waiting into seven days.

Gas Chromatograph of volatile compounds in a 33 year aged demerara rum and Lost Spirits Colonial Inspired Rum – Image courtesy of Bryan Davis, Lost Spirits Distillery.

While the Colonial Inspired rum was a limited edition, there’s more rum coming from Lost Spirits very soon. While the Colonial Inspired didn’t set out to exactly match the demerara style, the chromatograph strongly suggested it was possible. Thus, Bryan has set his sights on replicating the flavor profile of the 33 year aged demara, down to the touch of caramelized sugar that the graphs suggest is present. The result is the new Lost Spirits Prometheus rum, which will debut at Rum Renaissance in April 2015.

Although the exact details of every step of the Lost Spirits aging process remain a secret, here’s what I can share: Barrels are not used. Instead, charred blocks of wood go into tanks along with the unaged spirit. (Barrels themselves are charred, so charred wood blocks aren’t surprising.) Once the spirit and blocks are in the reactor, the following transformations occur (paraphrasing Bryan):

1) Forced esterification of the volatile carboxylic esters.
2) Polymers in the charred oak blocks are shredded, yielding the same proportionate precursor molecules as the barrel does naturally over decades of aging.

3) Forced the esterification of the wood-derived precursors, which ultimately form into a mix of long-and short-chained esters.

The effect of these three steps is to rapidly cause the same ester transformations that happen in a traditional barrel—but in a literal fraction of the time
The original Lost Spirits rums (Navy Style, Polynesian Inspired, Cuban Inspired) used an early version of this aging process wherein the rum was divided, and each portion went through just one of the steps before all the portions were blended back together. The newer version of the aging process (2.0) runs the entire batch through all three steps in a very specific sequence. The Lost Spirits Colonial Inspired rum, covered here, is the first release to use the 2.0 process. The Prometheus rum will be the second release, although with a different flavor profile, i.e., similar to a 20-year aged demerara.

Given all the crazy equipment and complicated steps necessary to pull off this unique, hyper-speed aging process, how will Lost Spirits lease this technology to other distillers while keeping the critical parts of it a trade secret? Would you believe a “reactor” that condenses the process into a large box, roughly the size of a compact SUV, that’s delivered to the leasing distillery and then wired up for electricity and internet? The power is necessary for the pumps, computers, and other devices within. The internet connection will connect the reactor to Lost Spirit’s computers for control and monitoring. If the reactor can’t talk to the Lost Spirits computer, everything shuts down.  And if you pry open the box to see what’s inside? Don’t even think about it.

With the reactor in play, different aging profiles can be created to emphasize desired characteristics. An on-site iPad will provide a certain degree of control to the local distiller. There will be some level of access to the reactor internals – after all, the wood blocks will need to be changed out. But beyond a few things like that, the distiller adds his unaged spirit, and in a week or so, collects the transformed spirit, ready for bottling.

As for how the leasing works, at least in the beta phase, distilleries will pay an upfront amount to cover equipment costs and then a monthly fee thereafter. While this is obviously an added expense for small distillers, barrel aging is expensive as well. Distillers have their capital tied up in barrels for several years, sometimes decades, and during that time they’re losing product to the angel’s share (spirit that evaporates through the barrel walls). Initially Bryan plans to take just a handful of carefully selected distilleries into his beta process, enabling him to closely monitor the process and make adjustments as necessary. He expects that it will be several months before the first reactor is delivered, making a mid-2015 debut.

I have to admit, from the first moment Bryan told me about this (under NDA) I’ve been filled with, “What about…?” and “What if…?” questions. It’s without a doubt a bold move, filled with risk–not least of which is garnering unfavorable attention from giant spirits entities with a vested interest in the status quo. However, if Lost Spirits is successful in this venture, it opens the possibility of distillers creating higher quality products at price points far less than they could achieve with traditional barrel aging. I really can’t wait to see how this story plays out.

Update: Bryan has published his white paper on the reactor, named the “Model 1” on the Lost Spirits site.

Lost Spirits publishes second rum gas chromatograph paper – What’s in your 33 year aged rum?

Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits is at it again. Armed with a gas chromatograph and an extensive library of rum, he’s undertaken extensive chemical analysis of various rums near and dear to the heart of rummies worldwide.

In the first paper on the Lost Spirits site, he covered how trace carboxylic esters are responsible for the fruit flavors commonly found in rums, as well as the effects of column vs. pot stills. In the second paper, Bryan focuses his chromatograph on a 33 year aged pot still rum and how the semi-volatile organics (SVOCs) change with barrel aging. Now, it’s natural to wonder which rum this is. While Bryan won’t reveal, I will assert that there are very few pot still rums that are aged 30 years or more, and which are generally available – Do your own digging.

Among the interesting tidbits that jumped out at me on first reading was that the gas chromatograph appears to prove that some amount of sugar was added at some point in the process. Up till now, work by Richard Seale and Johnny Drejer have measured sugar contents by indirect methods (specific gravity). To my knowledge, Bryan’s study is among the first detailed published studies to show the addition of sucrose by more direct, chemical analysis.

There’s lots more rummy science to wonk out about. Check it out here.

New “science of rum” paper from Lost Spirits Distillery now online

Longtime readers know I’m a big fan of Lost Spirits Distillery in central California. I’ve written about them extensively, with most of the hard science the result of long conversations with Bryan Davis, co-owner and master distiller. This is really wonky stuff: yeasts, acids, esters, and chemical analysis – true rum science.

Very recently, Bryan put up the first (of what hopefully will be several) pages on the Lost Spirits site where he shares the results of in-depth chemical analysis of pairs of rums, including annotated gas chromatographs. Titled “Trace Carboxylic Acid & Ester Origin in Mature Spirits”, it’s full of meaty observations like this:

This observation appears to confirm that the trace ester density is not only predetermined prior to the spirit entering the cask but that the distillation cuts and level of rectification has a massive effect on the final character of the aged spirit.

The page link is here. Alternatively, visit the Lost Spirits site and click on the “Science” link.

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.