Wednesday, March 15, 2017
The Lost World of Lost Spirits Part 2
On Monday, I described my trip to the new Lost Spirits distillery/ride in LA where I learned about Bryan Davis's system for aging spirits. On paper, he can mimic the esters in aged spirits, but how do they actually taste? I casually sampled some spirits at the distillery and while his 61% rum certainly didn't taste unaged, it still had some new make notes that you wouldn't taste in the old rums he's using as a model.
Davis sent me samples of his treated Isaly whiskeys, aptly named Abomination. These were made from underaged (approximately two year old) heavily peated Islay whiskeys and subjected to Davis's week-long treatment which included exposing it to treated American oak which had been seasoned with late harvest Riesling.
There are two bottlings of Abomination, an orange label, titled The Crying of the Puma, that was exposed to toasted oak and a black label, aka The Sayers of the Law, that used charred oak. At my request, Davis also sent me a sample of the untreated whiskey so I could compare. I'll start with my notes on that base whiskey and then review his two bottlings.
Lost Spirits Abomination Base Whiskey
The base spirit is completely colorless. The nose has a rich peat like any young peated malt would. The palate is actually pretty decent, sweet with some fruit notes (green grapes) and a big hit of peat. The finish has peat and fuel type notes. This is a high quality whiskey with a lot of peat and a good balance. It's an Islay, so we know the likely distilleries. This could be Laphroaig or even a Lagavulin. Alright, let's see what happened after a week in Bryan's "reactor."
Lost Spirits Abmoination, The Crying of the Puma (Orange Label), 54% abv ($50)
The Orange Label Abmoniation is the color of tea (color is relevant here since Davis doesn't use any coloring additives, so any color comes from the one week exposure to wood in his contraption). The nose is a bit less raw than the base spirit. It has a sort of savory note and then maple syrup. The palate opens with a nice coffee note along with the peat. It's got a weird brown sugar note, but otherwise tastes like a good peated malt. The finish is very nice with strong peat.
This is a good, peated whiskey. It still tastes like a young whiskey but not an underaged one; it doesn't have new make notes. Tasting blind I would probably guess it was five to seven years old.
Lost Spirits Abmoniation, the Sayers of the Law (Black Label), 54% abv ($50)
The Black Label was treated with charred oak. The color is similar to the Orange Label. It has a sort odd nose with peat and soy sauce. The palate is peaty and quite sweet, with an artificial sweetener type of a note. It also has a touch of that umami note from the nose and a slight soapiness. The finish is nicely peaty. I don't like this one as much as the Orange Label. There is a syrupy sweetness that I don't prefer and that slight soapiness as well.
Overall, I'd say these are successful whiskeys. I really enjoyed the Orange Label and while I thought the Black was too sweet, it wasn't bad. They both tasted significantly older than the underaged base spirit.
So what does it all mean? Has Bryan Davis conquered whiskey aging? Well, it's hard to say. Whatever he did here, he certainly succeeded in making two whiskeys that look and taste older than the young spirit he started with. He certainly deserves credit for that and for producing good whiskeys.
The caveat here is that heavily peated malt is probably the most forgiving of all whiskeys. The heavy peat can mask a lot of flaws and off notes; that's why heavily peated malts are one of the few whiskeys that taste good when very young, and this base was a very good peated malt. Even the two year old spirit was palatable. That's not to take away from the quality of these whiskeys, but it does raise a question of whether Davis's mechanism would be replicable for other spirits that are less forgiving.
But despite the caveat, Davis not only has the most unique distillery tour around, he managed to make a very young whiskey taste significantly older - and also taste pretty good, and that's no small feat.