Bryan Davis Returns Again

From the darkness, there emerges a new light.You may remember our friend Bryan Davis -- the madcap, romantically-inclined dreamer/distiller who built a steam-powered still out of wood in the middle of a Salinas artichoke field and decided to make 100% California, peated single malt whisky. He's untraditional, unapologetic, and a bit unorthodox, but he's one of the most exciting and unpredictable producers I've ever met. I won't see him for months and then he'll just pop into the store unannounced with a bottle of something new to try. When I saw him in the Redwood City store this week he not only had a bottle of rum in his hand, but one crazy whopper of a story as well.

I had heard the rumors, but Bryan was here to confirm them: he was indeed forced to bulldoze his entire operation. Why? Because of TCA, or as we call it in the wine industry: cork taint. The TCA gets into the wood, the wood gets turned into cork, the cork goes into the bottle, and the wine gets spoiled. In this case, the TCA got into Bryan's still and his barrels, rendering his entire operation and all of his mature whisky useless. There is a swimming pool nearby the location of Bryan's former still. The chlorinated water from that pool somehow leaked into the ground and began mixing with the dried leaves and other matter in the dirt. Chlorophenol becomes TCA when it interacts with airborne fungi, so without being aware of it, Bryan's pool was creating a den of cork taint right below his wood-built operation. Tens of thousands of dollars later, Bryan was left with a mound of rubble.

Bryan's cryptic photo of his new stillLike a phoenix rising out of the ashes, Bryan got right back to work and built a new still out of copper; a better, more powerful machine ready to tackle more traditional spirits in a traditional manner. He decided to invest in some Grade A molasses from Domino and try his hand at rum. Rum is not normally distilled from Grade A molasses, however. It's usually distilled from fresh sugar cane juice (agricole), the honey from the boiled sugar cane juice (Ron Zacapa), or black strap molasses (what's left after the first five rounds of molasses have been sulphured to death and every last crystal of sugar has been scraped free). Grade A represents the class of molasses before all that reduction has taken place. It's the kind you could put on your pancakes. Bryan distilled his Grade A molasses to a high proof and matured the spirit in new American oak, seasoned with sherry. The result is something in between Smith & Cross and El Dorado: big richness, big alcohol, big funk.

The result is exactly what you would expect from a navy style rum, but it has something earthy and bizarre that lets you know who made it. It's easily adaptable into a standard cocktail like a Dark and Stormy, but also capable of lending new perspective into something like a Mai Tai. It's already in the bar at Smuggler's Cove and it's already lining the shelves of our San Francisco store. Also, in classic Bryan Davis fashion, it's affordable and well-priced for the size and scale of the operation: $44.99.

We've got a few right now. We'll have a lot more soon.

I'll also have a lengthy interview with Bryan in the near future, breaking down all of this madness into minute detail. Stay tuned!

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll