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.

When I last left off, I had shared that there would be multiple Cuban Inspired rums from Lost Spirits Distillery. At the same time, Bryan Davis and Joanne Haruta, the owners of Lost Spirits, were roaming around Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, providing the Rum Illuminati with teaser samples of a 94 proof Blanco rum. Since then, I’ve had a long phone chat with Bryan, where he filled me in on the backstory of how the Cuban Inspired differs from the prior Navy Style and Polynesian Inspired iterations.

The ever-growing Lost Spirits Family of rums

The first thing to understand about Bryan and Lost Spirit is that he’s got a lot of “knobs” he can turn in the production process, and once he sets his mind on what particular style should taste like, he adjusts those knobs to amplify the outcome in that direction. None of their rums are subtle – They all go to 11 in whatever attributes Bryan wants to emphasize.

Traditionally, Cuban style rums are on the dry side and are strongly influenced by the wood aging process. However, Bryan’s opinion is that some traditional Cuban rums have an “Elmer’s Glue” aspect to the nose, and he wanted to minimize that while retaining the other identifying characteristics of a Cuban rum. The difference between the Cuban and their prior Navy and Polynesian style rums come down to four main differences: the mash, distillation cuts, aging, and filtration.

When making the mash for the Cuban style, Bryan doesn’t do the same funky dunder tricks like adding bananas to the mix, which he does for the Navy and Polynesian rums. However, the mash is nitrogen deprived (a detail I got wrong in my earlier post about the Cuban)— done by limiting the free nitrogen in the ferment to stresses the yeast, changing how it converts yeast and bacteria derived acids to esters

As for distillation, the goal was a “cleaner” style of rum with less of the higher alcohols that give the Navy and Polynesian their distinct flavors. When choosing where to make the heads and tails cuts during distillation, he collected a smaller overall slice, with the goal of letting the wood aging impart more of its own characteristics. The resulting distillates have much higher rectification than the Polynesian and Navy rums.

Some of Bryan’s patented flavor-influencing tricks involve non-traditional barrel treatments prior to adding the rum. While the goal with the Navy style rum is a dark, heavy rum, high in phenolics and a smoky essence, for the Cuban he used both lighter charred barrels as well as toasted American oak barrels. The barrels weren’t primed with sherry like the Navy style, nor were they smoked.

Up to this point, the path of the two (eventual) Cuban Style rums are the same, but now diverge. The 151 proof, now available, is diluted very slightly to bring it down to 151 proof and then bottled. The Anejo Blanco version, which is not yet available, has further to travel.

Originally, Bryan’s plan was for an aged white rum in the style of something like Havana Club 3. Barrel aging rum for any reasonable period of time adds color, so to make a clear aged rum, distilleries age then filter their product to strip out the coloring. This naturally removes a certain amount of the flavor, but that’s the price you pay for a pretty, clear rum.

Up to this point, Bryan had never experimented with filtration of this type or scale necessary to produce a commercial rum. Bryan is an experimenter, so he located a company that makes all sorts of different carbon filters. I’d never really thought about it, but there are dozens of different types of filters available. Bryan got several, some made from different types of wood, some from charcoal, and some from different types of coconut husks. Through extensive experimentation, Bryan and crew learned that each type of filter had its own distinct set of flavors that pass through or get filtered out. After exhaustive testing, he selected a coconut husk filter that leaves a large amount of compounds including the taste of butterscotch and vanilla.

In his testing, Bryan learned a few things: First, an enormous amount of carbon filter material is needed – He told me that a typical Brita filter size would produce about a ¼ bottle of finished rum.  Second, in a similar way that you soak a Brita filter in water prior to using it, the carbon filter needs to be primed with water before filtering the rum. As you can guess, some of that water comes through in the finished product—causing a bit of dilution. The Anejo Blanco Cuban rum will be 90 proof—not an arbitrary number. Through trial and error, Bryan learned that the original 151+ proof rum got diluted down to around 90 proof after passing through the filter, and that’s the strength the Anejo Blanco will be when it’s released.

Because it skips the carbon filtration, the 151 proof Cuban is easier to produce, which is why it’s available now. Since they’re a small distillery, Bryan builds many things by hand, and one of his tasks is constructing the equipment needed to filter sufficient quantities of rum to ship the Anejo Blanco version, hopefully later this year. (I’m also pushing him hard to produce a “Jamaican ester bomb rum,” but that’s a topic for another post…)

So how is it?
First off, if the Cuban Inspired were my first encounter with Lost Spirit’s rums, I’d be blown away by the flavor intensity and character. However, as a techie and someone who relentlessly measures and compares, my first instinct is to compare the Cuban to its Navy Style and Polynesian Inspired siblings. Also, as forewarning, tasting three rums where the lowest proof is 132 is dangerous business, as high alcohol content can obscure the flavor elements you’re trying to tease out.

The color of the Cuban is medium gold, similar to the Polynesian. Upon initial nosing of the Cuban 151, my thought was, “This apple didn’t fall too far from the family tree.” There’s an unmistakable flavor element common to all three Lost Spirits rums. I initially attributed it to the baking molasses starting point for their mash, but as I pondered it over the course of many sips, the common element in all three rums changed to what I’d call lush butterscotch. My first reaction when tasting the Cuban by itself, and without prior context, was that it seemed similar to the Navy Style.

I subsequently poured samples of all three rums and rapidly switched between them to get a sense of relative difference. Unmodified by water, the Cuban and Navy style taste somewhat similar, and the Polynesian Inspired has fruitier vibe. But with a bit of water, the Polynesian and Cuban share more in common. After several tastings over many hours, the predominant characteristic I get from the Cuban Inspired is that it’s a butterscotch and vanilla bomb, less round and smoky than the Navy Style, and less pineapple/fruit forward than the Polynesian. After tasting all three, I chatted with Bryan and got his thoughts on the butterscotch aspects. In chemistry parlance, he believes it’s likely a combination of ethyl butyrate and various phenols.

While the intense flavor is the big star in the Lost Spirits story, the labeling shouldn’t be dismissed. It’s obvious that a lot of effort goes into the graphic design. The Cuban label is more colorful than the others and evokes the feeling of pre-Castro era Cuba in the 1930s.

Since sipping a 151 proof can only go on for so long, and since it’s “Cuban Inspired,” the obvious cocktail to try it with is a daiquiri. I deliberately went simple to let the rum tell its story.

  • 1.5 oz Lost Spirits Cuban Inspired Rum
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • 1/2 oz 1:1 simple syrup
Shake over ice, strain into chilled coupe.

The vanilla and butterscotch notes led to a deeply satisfying daiquiri…or two, but who’s counting?

6 thoughts on “The Hottest Tot North of Havana – Lost Spirits Cuban Inspired Rum

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  1. Very well written! it's hard to capture all the technical details when it comes to this kind of rum they are doing but you are doing it well. I'm soon on my way to the distillery….and further to Tiki Oasis so my review will have to wait a couple more weeks….and I'm soooo dying to try that daiquiri…The labels are pure art!!

  2. Thanks so much, Helena! Also, you're here for a long time! I'm glad you're coming out to California, where I grew up. While our paths won't intersect on this trip, I'll be in SF shortly after you and am working on fitting in my own trip to LS.

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