Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Craft Whiskey Week - Lost Spirits Seascape and Leviathan

A few years ago, I reviewed Obsello, a really nice absinthe made in Spain by expat American Bryan Davis (aka B. Alex). Davis sold his absinthe distillery and moved back to California to open Lost Spirits Distillery in Salinas.

Inspired by his first taste of Octomore, Bryan and his business partner Joanne, set out to make a peated American single malt. Using California barley and Canadian peat, they released their last two whiskeys last month: Seascape and Leviathan I.

Both whiskeys are cask strength, non-chill filtered, single cask bottlings that are aged in French oak late harvest Cabernet casks from a Napa winery. The difference is in peating level, with the Leviathan being peated to an Octomore-like 110 ppm and the Seascape being a somewhat more lightly peated 55 ppm, though that still puts it solidly in the Ardbeg/Lagavulin level. Given that they are cask strength, single barrel bottlings, the abv varies.

Lost Spirits Seascape, Cask 1, 53% abv ($45)

The nose on this is very new makey with some nice, mezcal like smokiness. The palate hits you right off with smoke, but not like a peated Scotch, more like inhaling the fumes from a camp fire with a little bit of sweet mint in the background. The finish is a day old ashtray. This stuff is way too young, but it's engaging and the smoky quality is nice. Nothing picks up new make like a bunch of peat.

Lost Spirits Leviathan I, Cask 2, 53% abv ($55)

The nose on the Leviathan has a new make quality similar to the Seascape, very malty, also with some smoky mezcal notes. On the palate I expected a peat assault, but it's more of that smoky mezcal. The finish has peat notes, but also lots of dark chocolate. The finish has barbecue ash. If I was blind tasting this, I most certainly would have guessed that it was a smoky mezcal.

Like lots of the better craft whiskeys out there, these show promise but are way too young tasting. Remember, most heavily peated Scotch ages at least five years. I'm guessing these are under a year. If you like smoky mezcal, you might enjoy these, but they are much closer to that (which is usually unaged) than a traditional peated whiskey.


ch said...

I have the same Cask 1 of the Seascape and to me it's almost completely dominated by a sort of overripe, almost rotting tropical fruit note on the nose and palate. My friends feel the same way when they tried it. Maybe the cabernet influence is a bit too strong at this point because it sure doesn't feel like 55 ppm.

I do get a little of the smoke on the nose but mainly it doesn't become very apparent until the finish. Quite bizarre. I probably should have gone for the Leviathan.

B. Davis said...

Rebuttal: (please publish me)

This morning I woke up after reading your blog post
and contemplated closing the distillery that Joanne
and I spent the last 3 years of our blood sweat and
tears to build. Then I poured myself a glass of
Leviathan and the forthcoming Paradiso and said
HELL NO I love this whiskey. It was at that moment
that I decided to write a short rebuttal to your
opinion of my work.

The criticism that a spirit is too young is insulting.

A spirit can be too hot for your taste. A spirit can be
too sweet for your taste. A spirit can be to bitter for
your taste. You can find notes in it that you don’t
like or find awkward. That’s fine and you’re entitled
to your opinion, but to say its too young is an
undefined criticism.

You owe it to your readers to say why you don’t like
it. Hell you owe it me, the person who slaved for
years to make the whiskey you panned for no
defined reason. Its like saying I am in my thirties
and therefore too young to make whiskey. I, like
the art I created, stand or fall on my own merits,
not my age.

I further take issue with the statement “its too
young” since it pretends to be an objective
statement when we all know opinions about
whiskeys are inherently subjective.

I would also point out that many trained palettes
that have sampled my work see what I see in it and
love it and support it. I am not saying you have to
like it but I am saying the criticism “its to young”
pretends to be objective when its not, and is really
just a vindictive and mean way of saying I don’t care
for it.

Why I did it:
A spirit derives its reason for being based upon what
it does that is new, interesting, and unusual. If
Leviathan tasted like Laphroag it would have no
reason for being since Laphroaig already exists. I
made bold changes to the production process, the
wood, the peat, and the techniques used to age it.
The ester profile and flavor density is off the charts.
Is it conventional NO – it’s not supposed to be.

I think Leviathan has a lot to say, you don’t have to
like what it says, but don’t tell people not to listen
because it’s too young to speak – say why you don’t
like what it says.

Why “it’s too young” is a dangerous thing to say.
Big distilleries are pushing the message that craft
products are too young… why because they are
trying to bankrupt them by discouraging people
from trying the whiskeys at all. When you repeat
their garbage you are being played like a pawn of
the multinational corporations that don’t want to
see a world with 10,000 distilleries in it. For them
this is business. For me this is art, and the world
will be richer place if we don’t let them push their
corporate PR strategy down our throats.

Anonymous said...

Amen to Brian. This is simply a gorgeous malt. Eucalyptus. Mezcal. Dark Chocolate. Hot. Bright. Even vegetal. Is high quality and unique. Ageists need not apply.

Unknown said...

Counterpoint: Lost Spirits is making spirits all right, but to call Leviathan "whisky" is to do dishonor to the name. And it doesn't matter how much he's sweated creating it, it's still garbage. Apparently he's so new to whiskey that he thinks calling a whiskey "young" means you're judging it on its stated age, not its taste. False. Calling a whiskey young simply means it's hot and lacks complexity. Because so many young whiskeys taste this way, it's an apt connotation. And his whiskey tastes as young as it is. Calling the whiskey's off tastes "exciting experiments" is like claiming, when as a kid you ran into a wall, that "I meant to so that." Well, bravo.

Anonymous said...

+B. Davis, try using Rye if you're not letting it sit for long. Young rye can be absolutely delicious.