(Photos courtesy of Lost Spirits Distillery)
When Bryan Davis contacted me a few weeks back and asked if I wanted to taste a few new single malts, I said, "Sure, why not?" He said he was a big fan of the store and wondered if I remembered the Obsello Absinthe and Port of Barcelona gin, two products he had distilled while living in Spain. "Of course, I remember those! That was you?" I replied. It turned out that Bryan had dropped that project in 2009 when he headed back to California and down to the central coast to build his own distillery - literally. The picture you see above is the custom-designed, hand-built, steam-powered still sitting at the Lost Spirits Distillery outside of Salinas. The original idea had been to recreate different types of "lost" spirits using old American distillation methods no longer in production.
What happened, however, was the invention of a new genre for single malt whisky. Bryan brought me two cask strength, unchillfiltered, California Cabernet-aged expressions that were heavily peated using another custom-designed, hand-built smoker and peat imported from Canada.
Bryan is a total geek for peat. As you'll hear in the video interview embedded down below, he's is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to which compounds in the moss result in which types of flavor. The science behind the Seascape and Leviathan whiskies is so tight that there was no possible way he wasn't going to succeed. Bryan's problem is going to be supply. He's going to need a lot of this stuff and we're talking one year old whisky here. I can only imagine where this project is going.
So the whiskies are here - they're in stock and ready to rock. Take a listen to what Bryan has to say about them first and see what you think:
The best part is the price. These weren't cheap to produce, but Bryan is a veteran who understands the market's current disappointment with over-priced, under-matured, "craft" whiskies. I think he's done an admirable job at keeping these affordable. As for my opinion, I really like them. They're not for the casual consumer. I wouldn't have a bottle of Glendronach and a bottle of Seascape as my two house whiskies, if you know what I mean. Having tasted the two over ten times now, I find that they're different each time that I sample them and I appreciate that. They're very drinkable, but they defy categorization. You're all gonna have to take the leap and see what you think. I plan on getting him into the store very soon for a tasting, but I don't know if we'll have anything left at that point.
Lost Spirits Distillery Seascape I Single Malt Whisky $44.99 - Bryan Davis used to be the distiller for a small Spanish operation known mostly for their Obsello absinthe. Since 2009, he's been living outside of Salinas where he's build a custom, steam-powered still by hand alongside a hand-built smoker. By taking organic California barley and importing peat from Canada, he's managed to craft a small collection of smoky, locally-produced single malt whisky with ppm levels that compete with Ardbeg and Octomore. Aged entirely in California wine casks, these whiskies are completely unique and undeniably geeky. The Seascape is the lighter of the two in both color and smoke flavor. The peat really dominates the flavor and not with just the standard campfire element. The essence of the peat, earth and moss, entangles itself with the beery flavor of the young whiskey with the richness from the late harvest Cabernet cask imposing itself on the finish. It's bottled at cask strength, unchillfiltered, and it's reasonably priced. While it's definitely not Laphroaig, it's not trying to be. Bryan is creating an entirely different genre of single malt and I think five years from now we'll all be kicking ourselves we didn't buy more of the early collectables. Easily one of the most fascinating whiskies of the past few years and a giant signal that California is slowly carving out its own single malt niche.
Lost Spirits Distillery Leviathan I Single Malt Whisky 54.99 - The Leviathan is the heavier of the two in both weight and smoke flavor. The aromas are very beery, like a wash tun, but the big, bright peat eliminates that flavor from the palate. The flavors are spicy, medicinal, and bold. It's bottled at cask strength, but entirely drinkable from the bottle. Unchillfiltered, reasonably priced, and smoked to an incredible 110 ppm.