husband, father, whisky lover, blogger, freelance whisky writer, and head of the New Jersey Whiskey Society & leading the USBG NJ efforts...currently the New Jersey Whisky Ambassador for Diageo & therefore leave the recent writing duties to guest bloggers, primarily that Bourbon loving fella named Gerard

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lost Spirits - Bohemian Bonfire


Whiskey, despite being comprised of the simplest of items, can be astoundingly difficult to perfect and make.

There is an art and a science behind it all.  It can be maddening to comprehend how something that appears so easy can be extraordinarily intricate and beautiful.

This leads to most distilleries following tried and true methods passed down over generations.  Rightfully so, because if it is not broken, don’t fix it!

However, there are a few brave souls in the world that dare to take on something totally different.  To stray from the pack and attempt (what appears to be) the unattainable.

There are companies that have ventured into some form of this in the USA.  Buffalo Trace has their experimental collection and Balcones has elevated corn whiskey to a new level, Corsair is always trying new things, and a few others.

But, few are as beguiling and intriguing as what Bryan Davis and Joanne Haruta are doing in Salinas, California at Lost Spirits Distillery.  Bryan is not only trying to venture out into some new type of experimental whiskeys, he is practically on a ship trying to prove that the Earth is not flat.

Top view...looks like a wine bottle
And it could not be more exciting!

Sometimes the peat is not ‘standard’ (Canadian), the casks are usually from his locale (usually wine casks), there is a dragon head on the lyne arm, heck, even the pot still is out of the ordinary. (it is wooden!) 

Super cool stuff to a whiskey geek like me.  Add to this three of my favorite whiskey characteristics:  Cask Strength, Un-Chillfiltered, Single Cask, and I am panting!

One of their goals is to make a peated Single Malt US whiskey.  Most of the distillate appears to be Canadian or California malted barley that is heavily peated in his homemade smoker.  I also read that he throws away the head and tail cuts instead of redistilling them!  Unheard of! 

With many small distilleries trying to get younger whisky to taste older through various methods, Bryan is to be applauded for doing some pretty unique work.  One of which is utilizing air pressure to increase the interaction between the wood and the whiskey.   (he uses this even when seasoning barrels too)

Ok, but how does it taste?

Well, when reading about Lost Spirits online, the reviews run the gamut.  It seems that people either love it or hate it.  Endlessly curious, I had to find out for myself!

At a recent New Jersey Whiskey Society meeting, we had the honor of sampling Lost Spirits Bohemian Bonfire.  A super rare treat (roughly only about 160 bottles available) we were all on the edge of our seat to try this.  (special thanks to Joanne for the sample)
Sunshine in a bottle
Tasting Notes:

Appearance:  Very light, white wine

Nose:  Peat (not-Islay), but a different type of peat smoke like moss-meets-sweatsocks (in a good way) vegetal.  Like a wet dog that dried out but still smells a little funky.  A few drops of water unleash fruits and honey.  Earthy and rich.  Layers upon layers here, lots to think about.

Palate:  Malt blending with odd smoke, nutty, dark fruits and a spicy surprise of clove

Finish:  Medium length finish, a little bit of sweet cookie dough at the last moment and that distinct smoke and fresh pepper on the way out

Overall:

This distillery already has their popular Leviathan series, which are heavily peated single malts for peat-heads everywhere.  Bohemian Bonfire is meant to take the same base as Leviathan II but make narrower cuts during distillation.  In addition, I believe he uses more neutral wine casks to help decrease the oak notes.

Bryan is quoted as calling Bohemian Bonfire “a more ‘pure’ version of Leviathan without all the wood and complex esters getting in the way.  In short its Leviathan as Minimalism.”

While I have yet to try any Leviathan releases, they must be pretty fun.   Being a bit of a peat geek myself, I have to say that I love that this is so different.  I feel that one of the great things about whiskey is its versatility.  There is a time and a place for each one.  Even each peated expression.  There are times I want Lagavulin, and there are times that I lean towards Laphroiag, and still others that nothing but Ardbeg can quench.

Now I can add something totally new to my Peat List.

I would not have really thought that this whiskey is as young as it likely is (labeled as ‘less than 4 years’ on the bottle).  At the NJWS meeting, and while reviews varied, everyone pretty much had a similar first reaction:
Some members were still outside sweating, but we got a few together for a photo

“This is different.”  “What the heck?” “Totally unique.”

When my mind races about my peat cravings, there is a new one to satiate now.  There is a niche for this on my palate, as I will likely get to the bottom of the bottle and not completely figure it out.  When I want something out of the ordinary, to get me out of a rut, to force me to think, I now have another bottle to reach for. 

I’ve heard Bryan was quoted as saying, “I want a whiskey to entertain me with fireworks and surprises – so don’t expect subtle from me.”  Mission accomplished my friend!

I can’t help but get excited about what Bryan can do with these simple ingredients and even more time to hone his craft and age his whiskey…truly art and science having fun and yielding something inimitable.

Score:  86

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