Monday, March 13, 2017

Bryan Davis and the Lost World of Lost Spirits Part 1

Bryan Davis at his new LA distillery.
Bryan Davis is a unique individual even in an industry full of unique individuals. I first ran into Bryan back in 2009, when he was living in Spain making Obsello Absinthe which I quite enjoyed. After selling his absinthe business, he came back to his home town of Monterey, California and founded the Lost Spirits Distillery where he began making whiskey. In 2012, I reviewed some of his whiskeys (Leviathan and Seascape), which I found promising, but I also thought had too many of the raw notes typical of craft whiskeys. Davis took exception to my reviews, to say the least.

A few years later, Davis started promoting a quick aging scheme for spirits. I never tasted those spirits, mostly rums, but I'm generally skeptical of quick aging schemes, having never tasted one that was any good. Originally, he was selling his technology to other companies, but he is now concentrating on using the technology himself. Along with rum, he recently, released two Islay whiskeys that he treated with his system.

Davis is getting ready to open a new distillery here in Los Angeles and, after not being in touch for five years or so, he invited me to come take a look at it and try some of his recent spirits.

Now, I've been on a lot of distillery tours, and let me say, I have never seen a distillery like this one. In his previous career, Davis made theme park rides, and his LA distillery is like a cross between Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean and the boat ride in the original Willy Wonka movie, complete with boat, palm trees, jungle sounds and talking birds. I kid you not.

At one of the boat stops which has a sort of English drawing room aesthetic, Davis showed me a presentation on his system, which seeks to produce the same esters present in aged spirits through a combination of wood manipulation and infrared light (though never with additives). There will always be deviations, but on paper, he claims he is very close to copying the esters present in aged rum. For his Islay whiskeys, the process was less analytical. Rather than trying to mimic a particular ester profile, he just went by taste and smell.

Boats, birds and charts are all well and good, but how does this stuff taste?  Tune in on Wednesday and we'll find out.


Anonymous said...

Just glad to hear you made it out alive, Sku.

My Annoying Opinions said...

Are we sure he's made it out? Sku, we need to see a picture of you in an open public space with a newspaper showing the date.

kpiz said...

Excellent cliffhanger, sku. I'm looking forward to reading your notes on their new stuff. I was a fan of their older (pre-THEA One) rums and thought their whiskeys were very interesting as well, but haven't opened my bottle of their new Navy Style Rum yet.

Do you know if their distillery will open for public tours sometime in the near future?

Brian (AKA The Dean) said...

If the whiskey/whisky in question is under 4 years old, doesn't the label have to state the age, to comply with the regulations?

In his interview with K&L's Dave Driscoll, Davis says he doesn't want to reveal how old (young) the whiskey really is. I'm a bit surprised Driscoll didn't counter with, "But if it is less than 4-years old, you are obligated to do so."

sku said...

You're absolutely right Brian, though of all the unenforced TTB regs, that one be the most unenforced.

sku said...

And he told me approximately how old the whiskey was. I'll discuss it in my next post.

Brian (AKA The Dean) said...

I know this will never happen, but if reputable retailers (like K&L---one of the best, IMO) refused to products with labels that blatantly violate the regs, things could change pretty fast.

Brian (AKA The Dean) said...

Oops. Obviously I meant "refuse to carry..."


Sam Komlenic said...

I believe the age need only be stated if the product is labeled as "straight" and if that age is less than 4 years.

If it just says "whiskey" there is no age regulation.

sku said...

Sam, that's a common misconception, but the 4 year old rule actually applies to all whiskey, not just straight whiskey.

sku said...

Here's the relevant language:

§5.40 Statements of age and percentage.
(a) Statements of age and percentage for whisky. In the case of straight whisky bottled in conformity with the bottled in bond labeling requirements and of domestic or foreign whisky, whether or not mixed or blended, all of which is 4 years old or more, statements of age and percentage are optional. As to all other whiskies there shall be stated the following:

(1) In the case of whisky, whether or not mixed or blended but containing no neutral spirits, the age of the youngest whisky. The age statement shall read substantially as follows: “___ years old.”