This is a review of Lost Spirits Distillery's "Crying of the Puma" expression. Feel free to check out this write-up on what makes Lost Spirits Distillery controversial.
If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck… chances are you would accept that it is a duck.
The California-based Lost Spirits Distillery makes a similar claim. If it looks like a 15-year-old whisky, smells like one, tastes like one, and gets you similarly drunk like one, Lost Spirits wants you to accept that its “Abomination” range of “instantly-aged” spirits are in fact no different from 15-year-old whisky.
Never mind that the years that go into aging is one of the essential features of whisky. Nor shall we dwell that regulations in Scotland, England, Ireland and Japan provide that whisky must at least be aged for a couple of years (usually at least 3 years) in wooden casks.
Distillery: Distilled in an Islay distillery, matured/processed in Lost Spirits Distillery
Brand: Lost Spirits
Region: Islay, Scotland + California, USA
Distributor: Original Bottling (OB)
Classification: Malt Spirit
Cask: Riesling Wine Oak
Age: 12-18 months of maturation + 6 days of accelerated maturation
Behind the Label
What about Lost Spirits Distillery?
Essentially, the Californian distillery believes that the barrel-aging process of whisky can be “hacked”, and that decades of aging in a barrel can be completed in a reactor within a matter of 6 days. The spirit would have undergone the same reactions seen through years of traditional maturation, and emerge with a similar chemical fingerprint as a 15-year-old whisky.
Doesn’t that sound like the stuff of science fiction?
Founder, Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits Distillery, with his patented “instant-aging” reactors. These reactors use heat, UV light, ultrasound, high pressure and tiny fragments of wood to turn extremely young malt spirit into something with a similar chemical fingerprint as 15-year-old whisky (Image Source: Peter Yang, Whisky Advocate)
Founder of Lost Spirits, Bryan Davis, thinks that his process would be the way every distillery makes aged spirits 100 years from now.
The 6-day aging process ominously reminds me of this movie (Image Source: The 6th Day (Columbia Pictures, 2000))
This incidentally reminds me of a 2000 science fiction film where a shady corporation uses technology to clone humans within 6 days. Protagonist Arnie Schwarzenegger returns home from a trip only to realise that someone had implanted a doppelganger Arnie to live with his family. OH SHIT. A series of fights ensue only for protagonist Arnie to find out that he himself, was the actual clone. BOOM. Mindblown.
It would be interesting to ask how would the tradition-steeped whisky industry be disrupted as this technology develops.
As promised, here at 88 Bamboo we try anything and everything. We are fascinated by this technological development, and also really curious about Lost Spirits’ antics. We decided to procure a bottle for tasting and sharing.
Lost Spirits currently produces 2 bottles under its Abomination “instantly aged whisky” range- the “The Sayers of the Law” expression and the “Crying of the Puma” expression. Both are heavily peated. The Abominations are young malt spirits conceived and distilled in an Islay distillery and aged conventionally for 12-18 months. Then, they are sent to California and poured into Lost Spirits’ patented reactors and tempered for 6 days together with late harvest Riesling wine oak.
We heard that both expressions are somewhat similar, and we procured the Crying of the Puma for today.
And with that, let’s dive into tasting this bad boy.
In the glass, the liquid is a shimmery orange-brown or tawny colour.
On the nose, although this was “finished” in California, there is no doubt that this was conceived on Islay. Vibrant summer fruits, molasses and peat smoke. This opens up with an elegant (not an overpowering peat monster) sooty ash and peat in the aroma – not so much of the vegetal soot, but closer to burnt wood. The smoke is balanced by a counterweight of fruits and molasses jostling for attention. As the whisky (correction: malt spirit) sits and opens up a little, you find more and more depth and sweetness coming through. Sweet raspberries and cherry with some iced Bandung (rose syrup) notes clamour for attention while there is also a darkness in it- earthy woodiness that provide a profile of vanilla, caramel and molasses.
There is very enjoyable depth in its nose, and the sooty / grassy peat (with less maritime character) is reminiscent of some Laphroaigs that I have tasted.
Proceeding to the palate, the spirit has a medium-weight. You realise that despite the intensity in the nose and 54% ABV, there is a great deal of smoothness of texture. Very lively sweetness of caramel and molasses with a little bit of oak mustiness that is comparable to a 30-year-old whisky I have tasted once. This develops into fruitiness of dark cherries and nuttiness from a honey pecan pie. The texture is somewhat oily. The sweetness then melts away slightly as the sootiness and ash comes through in the form of cigars and burnt marshmallows, complimented by some brightness of singed orange peel.
There is indeed a lot going on. After a minute of tasting, the palate reveals a slight brininess and iodine- but not to the extent of what we see in most Lagavulins.
The finish is very long, warming with slight notes of pepper and spice on the tip of your tongue. The oiliness and viscousness of the spirit allows the spice and sweetness from cherries and caramel to linger for a while. The sweetness fades first and then the sooty peatiness soon follows, leaving a lingering dryness in your mouth (from the Riesling?) that beckons you to quench your thirst with another sip.
There are only a handful of distilleries in Islay and I am willing to bet that the malt spirit was sourced from Laphroaig Distillery. The medium weight texture and the ashy sootiness is distinctive and characteristic of the famous Laphroaig taste profile, which is known to have more mossiness, grassiness and sootiness in its peat (as compared to the stronger maritime peat notes in Lagavulins).
Is this on par with real whisky?
This is very fragrant, smooth and balanced even when compared to some of the better Islay style whiskies I have tried. Fragrant smoke and drier notes of oak are very artfully woven into the sweetness of the malt and Riesling cask, providing a fantastic balance. Unlike most NAS expressions at 50% ABV and above, the texture is smooth and the alcohol is easy to imbibe.
My verdict is that that Lost Distillery’s Abomination malt spirits should be regarded as something that is on par with real whisky. It certainly, smells like one, tastes like one, and I am willing to drink enough to get drunk on one. I have shared a dram of this with many friends. One of them who had not initially read about Lost Spirits Distillery was sure this is a whisky that is at least 21 years old.
Can this be considered real whisky?
This is a tougher question even if Lost Spirits fulfils the “duck test”.
Whisky maturing at Bunnahaibain Distillery
“Instantly-aged” whiskies could have solved the serious shortage problems faced by Japanese distilleries whose had to deal with demand far outstripping the supply of decently aged Japanese whiskies. From a conservation and cost perspective, using an instant-aging process also helps whisky distilleries avoid losing a huge proportion of their barrelled-up whiskies to evaporation in the “angel’s share” process (2% a year).
But allowing “instant-aging” reactor “whisky” to be deemed as real whisky could arguably be a mockery of the tradition and craftsmanship in the 300-year-old art of whisky-making and appreciation. From another angle, quality control would become an issue even if Lost Spirits’ Abominations taste great. If there aren’t some basic rules in place, who can be sure that the quality of other reactor-aged whiskies would be just as decent?
But I am tired of asking these maddening questions. All that is important is that we have something good tasting in our glasses (whether it is “true” whisky or a malt spirit). Let’s just enjoy a dram of this because we can.
Oven-roasted Impossible [Beef] Wellington at Bread Street Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay (Image Source: Impossible Foods)
This is a peated dram, which usually goes fantastic with roast beefs or chargrilled beef steaks. However, given the Abomination’s true nature as something conceived in a lab, it seems fitting that you should pair this with an Impossible Wellington with its umami plant-based meat and savoury vegan pastry.