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.
In my last update to the ongoing story, Lost Spirits had licensed reactors to two companies, Rational Spirits, from South Carolina, and Rattleback Rye, out of Southern California. Rational Spirits, headed up by private equity whiz kid Alexander Burns, built a new distillery in Charleston to focus on a line of rums. Rattleback, the joint effort of Théron Regnier and Wynn Sanders, set out to make rye whiskey. More licensees were in the pipeline, but not yet online.
Then, in a surprise move in early 2016, Bryan and his Lost Spirits co-founder and partner Joanne Haruta mothballed their Salinas, CA, distillery and moved to Charleston. Concurrently, Wynn and Théron did the same. The three companies–Lost Spirits, Rational Spirits, and Rattleback–formed a confederation of sorts, using Rational’s distillery equipment and sharing certain expenses, while remaining structurally distinct. The territorial division was that Rational would focus on rum, Rattleback on American whiskey, and Lost Spirits would drive some crazy experiments – more on this in a bit. Rational eventually released its first rum made at the Charleston facility– THEA-aged (as you’d expect) and dubbed Santeria.
Although never formally stated, the formation of the three-company confederation was effectively the end of the effort to license THEA reactors to smaller craft distilleries. All of the efforts were going to the Charleston-based projects.
This brings us to Tales of the Cocktail 2016 in New Orleans. Bryan and Joanne, along with Wynn and Théron, arrived with multiple cases of freshly made spirits to show off. (Wynn and Théron also had a documentary film crew in tow, but that’s a story for another day.) The new goodies to unveil were the first bottles of Rattleback Rye and the second Rational Spirits rum – dubbed Cuban Inspired, a successor of sorts to the original Lost Spirits rum of the same name.
In my book, the real star of the show at Tales was the Rattleback Rye. Bottled at 122 proof, I found it to be exceptionally tasty, and in a blind tasting, I wouldn’t have identified it as a THEA-aged spirit. My only regret was leaving Tales without one of those first bottles in my suitcase. I did manage to acquire a bottle of the Cuban Inspired rum, however. And I also left Tales with one other goodie: a very small vial of something quite astonishing that Bryan slipped to me.
Post Tales, the Lost Spirits/Rational/Rattleback confederation went quiet for a while. I assumed all three teams were back in Charleston, working busily away on their respective products. Every once in a while I’d hear from Bryan about some new project in progress–the best was buying up very specific pieces of antique American furniture, cutting them up, and using the wood in the THEA reactor. Why? Apparently, many years ago, certain spirits were sometimes aged in chestnut rather than oak, and Bryan wanted to try it out in the THEA process. However, authentic American chestnut wood is incredibly difficult to come by, so buying antique furniture was the most expeditious route to acquire sufficient quantities for THEA aging. Just don’t tell those antique dealers where their furniture ended up.
One day, out of the blue, I saw a Facebook post from Bryan, with a photo from the mothballed Salinas distillery, saying he was making a new batch of rum. One phone call later, I was up to speed on the latest twists: The three-company confederation was no more, and Bryan and Joanne had moved back to California. The first task: Get a new batch of rum underway at the Salinas distillery. Although this new rum shares the “Navy Style” moniker with its predecessor, it uses a much improved THEA-aging technique. Bottled at 61 percent ABV (compared to the original Navy Style at 68 percent ABV), this new version of the Navy Style rum is the least of the story!
In addition to firing up the Salinas distillery, Bryan and crew also started building a much larger distillery in downtown Los Angeles, currently nearing completion. Bryan, also an artist and sculptor, posted images of gorgeous, hand-built copper stills resembling dragons – not a complete a surprise, as his Salinas still also had a dragon theme. Other pictures of the distillery indicate it’s unlike any other distillery you’ve ever seen. As Bryan says, it will be the Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory of distilleries, with animatronics galore. Partnering with Bryan and Joanne in this distillery buildout are… Wynn and Théron from Rattleback
Going forward, their primary objective is delivering new batches of Lost Spirits rums to the pipeline. But that’s not all. Remember that vial? It contains THEA-aged spirit–but it’s not rum, and Bryan didn’t distill it. It was distilled thousands of miles from California, on a little island off the coast of Scotland. Might that island be Islay, home to super-peaty Scotch whisky? Why yes, it is!
Bryan purchased a batch of whisky from a very well-known Islay distillery, which has aged a few years but not long enough to meet the SWA minimum aging requirement. His plan is to THEA-age small batches using a variety of different woods. The overall product line will be known as Abomination, with releases named after chapters in H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau. So far, the U.S. TTB has approved several labels, including:
- Concerning the Beast Folk
- The Sayers of the Law
- The Crying of the Puma
The woods used in the initial releases are Madeira-seasoned American oak and late-harvest Riesling seasoned American oak staves, in toasted and charred permutations.
So there you have it, the latest twists in the Lost Spirits saga. I look forward to visiting the new distillery as soon as it’s complete, if not earlier. Photos and another chapter to come!