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Rum Review: Lost Spirits Navy Style Rum

Lost Spirits Distillery Navy Style 68% Cask Strength Rum Review

Lost Spirits Distillery Navy Style Rum

Recently I had the good fortune to share a few drinks with Lost Spirits Distillery owners Bryan Davis and Joanne Haruta and spend some time talking about their new Navy Style rum. While the average rum nut would be excused for not knowing about Lost Spirits, it’s well-known in whisk(e)y circles that Bryan and Joanne produce award-winning single malt whiskies among the strawberry and artichoke fields of Monterey County. But on this night, they were all about rum.

A self-taught chemical engineer, Bryan’s scientific, methodically analytical approach to making spirits is refreshing. We spent considerable time talking about fermentation microbiology and the chemical reactions that occur inside the barrel, but it’s his passion for the craft that really blew me away. I mean here’s a guy that knows where to make his cuts and how to blend barrels, but he’s also built two stills with his own hands and speaks about his products as if they were his children. And speaking of those products, I had a chance to try the 55% ABV rum while we chatted. It was quite good, but Bryan maintained the 68% cask strength was smoother despite the lack of water. He sent me away with a bottle to prove it, so that’s what we’ll be looking at today.

The tall bottle is clear and topped by a natural cork stopper with plastic cap. The label is a thing of beauty. My son remarked that the label looked “steampunk-inspired” and I can’t say I disagree. It’s old and new at the same time—there’s an angel on the label, but he’s sitting on a skull and cross bones. There’s also an old wooden frigate with enough cannons to obliterate the entire Spanish Main. But as artful as the label is, it’s the words that make the biggest impression on a rum nerd such as myself. Words like “no additives” and “cask strength”. There’s even an ingredients list which shows only “baking grade molasses, evaporated sugar cane juice, water.” The lack of caramel color is surprising given its darkness, but it’s all from Bryan’s innovative barrel aging protocol.

In the glass, the deep brown rum is as dark as cola. In the light, there are flashes of red mahogany, and a swirl of the snifter produces multitudinous long and liberal legs. At 68%, there is a fair bit of astringency, but that’s to be expected. The nose shows plenty of phenolics and charred oak on the bottom end, while the waft of ethanol carries the citrus upward: mostly lemon and grapefruit. Let’s taste it neat before we add some water…

The rum enters with a kick of heat and spice. Simultaneously, the palate is thinly but thoroughly coated by oaky tannins. There is a big dose of the phenolics and charred oak we noticed on nosing, and after only a few sips, my palate appears to be conditioned (anesthetized?) to this bold beast. As I get a good dose of dunderous funk, I’m already thinking this will be a huge hit among the high hogo set.

In between sips I can taste the citrus I noticed earlier, which is now represented by whole grapefruit and blood orange zest combined with a bit of lemon. There is also some dark purple grapes and marasca cherries. Beyond the fruit is molasses, vanilla and a hint of caramel, all of which is never too far from the charred oak that carries the long finish. Let’s add some water and see if we can pick anything else up…

As I add a few drops of water and swirl, I can’t help but think about saponification, and what Bryan would say at this point. On the other hand, this rum has so many aromatic esters that it could definitely survive the loss of a few from my quick water addition. The water does open it up a little while playing down the astringency, but it’s almost as if the rum has gotten “hotter”.  Now I understand what Bryan was saying about the smoothness of the cask strength—water doesn’t add much to the party. Two new flavors do come forth at the lower proof, however: a bit of cola nut and sarsaparilla.

At 68% ABV, my tasting glass is still half-full and I’m half in-the-bag, so we should probably wrap this up. Suffice to say I really enjoyed this rum, and wait with childlike anticipation to see what Bryan and Joanne do for an encore. Because for an innovative team like this, the best is certainly yet to come.

On to the scores:

  • Appearance 1/1
  • Aroma 2/2
  • Mouth feel 1/1
  • Taste 3.5/4
  • Aftertaste 2/2
  •  Total 9.5/10

Buy Lost Spirits Navy Rum Online

Have you tried Lost Spirits Distillery Navy Style rum? Please share your thoughts below!

Huli pau,
Josh

24 Comments leave one →
  1. February 15, 2014 6:51 pm

    Inasmuch as we know of no wood aging that can quickly turn a rum or whiskey to a dark red mahogany, I strongly suspect serious caramel coloring. Sadly, the distiller’s website is devoid of process or even pictures from which to judge. A shame. It seems that the modern claims of “Navy” rum are based solely on induced dark color and strength. The only real navy rum is of course, Pussers. The rest simply use the name. Although we are huge backers of artisan distillers, for one to really succeed requires a lot more transparency (pun intended). Good review, questionable product.

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      February 15, 2014 7:02 pm

      I can tell you with 100% certainty this rum is not artificially colored or artificially flavored in any way. This is a true gentleman distiller who went as far as listing the ingredients and positively stating there are no additives right on the label–something you should applaud, not automatically question. People don’t always put a lot of information on their Web sites. We talked for hours about the shenanigans pulled in the rum world, and their maturation process was explained to me in detail. It is innovative, but entirely above board. Here’s a little photo detail from their label: Lost Spirits Rum Label Detail

    • Tate permalink
      September 2, 2014 12:46 pm

      Following distillation, the rum is aged in charred, American oak casks that are seasoned with Oloroso Sherry. “We use a controlled charring process in the barrels that incorporates heat, flame, and even special frequencies of light to break the compounds we want out fast,” says Davis. “After that, it is about manipulating the environment to make the catalyst from the oak do its job. I won’t disclose all my secrets but in truth the aging process should be seen as the last step in a long line of process decisions that create a given spirit.”

  2. paulynesia permalink
    February 24, 2014 4:12 pm

    Another great review Josh. The high hogo set appreciates it! I just ordered a bottle from K&L. Can’t wait to try it!

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      February 24, 2014 4:16 pm

      Right on, Paul! I think you’re really going to love this one. Cheers

  3. March 2, 2014 9:19 am

    It’s natural to question the claims of producers, but a cursory examination reveals that the genuine artful methodology and purpose of this rum is not disputed. This distiller really knows his history, chemistry and artistry. The product is reminiscent of British Royal Navy Black Tot Rum which gains great flavor from fermentation first, barrel age second. As an overproof, it does sip smoothly offering big flavor from each small sip. Rum enthusiasts need to understand this rum as representative of a great Caribbean style nearly lost over the generations, now brought back to life by a master of his craft.

  4. March 2, 2014 10:22 am

    With all due respect to Mr. Burr (“the methodology…is not disputed”), that would be incorrect as more than one of the experts over at The Rum Project would dispute it. As would I. When I say that a rum is questionable, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad or good, it means that it’s reasonable to question it, like all new rums.

    What I do like are the statements “Does not contain coloring additives (or) flavoring additives”. I am equally impressed with the use of “baking grade molasses”, but only if that means first boil, food grade – as so well used by Phil Prichard. The addition of “evaporated sugar cane juice” is another intriguing point. Thanks Josh, for your belated ex post facto addition to the OP – assuming it’s true, can you hear me applauding now?

    What I don’t like – and question – is the lack of transparency by the distiller. Minimally informative website. Facebook presence that is dominated by marketing, not process. Actual time in the barrel is simply not discussed; rather an avalanche of general distillation trivia. The only real reference to wood is the use of “new, sherry seasoned American oak” that has undergone an secret preparation of “… controlled charring process incorporating heat, flame, and even special frequencies of light to break the compounds we want out fast.”. Fast? New wood and small barrels are the usual choice of new distillers who have been led to believe that wood aging can be greatly accelerated.

    It just ain’t so Joe, as the wonderful processes of real wood aging (almost never in new wood) – additive, subtractive and transformative don’t occur at the same rate, and many of which take honest years, certainly at least five or six years, especially in northern climates.

    Dunder is hardly “In my case this means overripe bananas which are a component of the yeast starter.”, with actual dunder (and dunder pits) being many years old, not a week, month or even a year. How bout his claim “…Waiting for the lab results but we are hoping for over 500ppm volatile esters”. We’re not buying or praising hope here – I hope, lol. To produce a “dark mahogany rum quickly and without a statement of age is well, worth questioning by most. Look. Claims are easy to make and especially such unusual and ground breaking ones such as these require extra transparency and openness, not just a rehash of Distillation 101 and promotional claims.

    When no less that Burr claims a “great Caribean style nearly lost… is now brought back by a master of his craft”, I can only – yes – question such an extravagant claim about a new rum, by a new distiller, using new and unrecognized processes for an as yet unproven rum.

    That’s life.

  5. March 12, 2014 11:48 am

    Hello Jimbo,

    First off, I am so glad to see how passionate you are about rum! If only we had more people who cared as much as you do, the world would be a more exciting place. I’ll try to address a few of your questions.

    1. We use only first boil, food grade molasses.

    2. I’ll talk about the dunder a bit.

    My job as a distiller is to give my customers the best product I can – period. Knowing I wanted to tackle the high-ester world, meant going down the strange rabbit hole of dunder.

    While you are correct that traditionally the dunder pits are years in the rotting, if I had taken that traditional approach I would have had to offer my customers incomplete product while I waited for the pit to rot. Furthermore, I would have had one heck of problem with the local health inspector – and I would need dead bats inoculate my bacteria. : )

    To solve these issues I asked the question of what is the purpose of the dunder. The answer is volatile acidity. The carboxylic acids made by the bacteria while working on the dunder are precursors to yummy esters made in the fermentation.

    The next question is why does this take so long? The answer is that the waste from the still is already very acidic (with low volatility acids that wont help our ester process) and bacteria multiply extremely slowly in high acid environments. Therefore if we could give the bacteria a food they could work on more efficiently we could get the same results without waiting for years. Enter overripe bananas (by the way they do this with banana and jack fruit in Jamaica as well).

    This begs the final question, which is can we control this! Classic dunder pits are grown using wild bacteria. Since each acid gives a unique ester and flavor, each bacteria strain would make a totally different rum. From there I was able to ask the question of what types of eatery flavors do I want in the rum?

    I arrived at a target group of esters and thus a target group of acids, and then read papers looking for bacteria strains that would produce those acids in high concentrations, be safe to work around, and also be able to thrive in my “dunder.” Once I isolated a few strains, I grew them in the lab and then raised them in my bananas. This process achieved a target acidity, with great efficiency and allowed me artistic control by choosing my bacterias and thus flavors – something I could never get with wild bacteria.

    I hope this helps answer some of your questions. For the rest you will need to attend the Miami Rum Renaissance where I will be giving a powerpoint on how we approached engineering rum at our tiny distillery. Hope to see you there.

    -Bryan

    • March 13, 2014 2:31 pm

      Thanks for your thoughful if somewhat tangential response and for offering to answer my questions here.

      1. You speak of fast aging that “doesn’t take years”. What size barrels do you use, and just how long is the rum aged in them? How many months or years? Just how “fast” is your “fast aging”?

      2. You speak of establishing “target esters and acids” that you achieved. How many esters was that and how many of these are present in the bottled rum?

      3. You state that “bananas and jack fruit are used in Jamaica”. By which distiller and for which products? In addition to leftovers from their 30 year old open dunder pits?

      Thanks in advance…

      • Chris permalink
        May 5, 2014 11:10 am

        I can address #3. Hampden Estate uses bananas and jackfruit for their higher-ester rums, they go into some detail on their website about their production process. I would expect that Long Pond also uses these fruit for some of their marks, but I don’t know for certain.

      • Kamamura permalink
        May 25, 2015 6:22 am

        Hello,

        Maybe this article will shed some light on the method of Mr. Davis. If his claims are true, the aging takes “no more than a week”

        http://www.wired.com/2015/04/lost-spirits/

      • May 25, 2015 10:47 am

        Chris, if you don’t mind, a quote, link or citation of the “jack fruit” process would be in order. The Hampdon site makes no mention of the process. As far as the “Wired” article, this is simply a regurgitation of the same old claims by the distiller that really don’t survive any reasonable analysis. There has never been a single successful example of “fast aging” or any alleged “shortcuts” ever working. Ever. The claims made by this distiller have now had a few years to be examined, without any real confirmation.

        Trust me, if this guy could actually age spirit in days, the majors would long ago have bought his magic process for many millions of dollars. They haven’t.

  6. Mike S. permalink
    April 3, 2014 1:21 pm

    I’m standing in K&L as I type this, and I’m buying a bottle of this stuff on the basis of this comment thread alone.

    Capt Jim, have you tasted it yet??

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      April 3, 2014 4:11 pm

      Good on ya, Mike!

  7. Long Arm permalink
    November 26, 2014 5:21 pm

    Sad to say, but this bottle is not very good at all.

    Got it this afternoon and a few of us rum drinkers all had a pour – none of us finished it.

    This is smoke. Tastes like burnt bacon to me. Not sure where you get the citrus from, my mouth was blanketed with the thick charcoal and smoked meat.

    Doesn’t even taste like rum.

    Disappointed – especially at this price point.

    Appearance 1/1
    Aroma 1/2
    Mouth feel .5/1
    Taste 1/4
    Aftertaste .5/2
    Total 4/10

  8. Tiare permalink
    December 1, 2014 10:57 am

    Taste is so personal….i myself like the smoky flavors 🙂 it´s a good thing that rum is such a grand and versatile spirit because there sure is a rum for everyone!

  9. May 20, 2015 2:24 pm

    I think this is a beautiful rum, love the smoke on it personally.

  10. Deadman66 permalink
    June 26, 2015 4:52 pm

    So, I’m having my second glass of grog with this rum, and still haven’t figured out how best to mix it. I am a rum novice, and this is a formidable beverage. I don’t think I would enjoy it neat or over ice, but after reading this blog and thread, I’m thinking pineapple would rock. Anyone have any recipes to share? I’ve been tweaking the one at the bottom of this site:
    http://www.uncommoncaribbean.com/2010/05/21/friday-happy-hour-grog-a-british-naval-tradition-since-1655/

  11. January 12, 2017 2:18 pm

    I’m a complete novice when it comes to rum, so forgive my naivety and lack of knowledge. That said, I bought a bottle of this based on another review, and mixed it as the rum ingredient in a Dark and Stormy. All I can say is that to me (and a few others who tried the same) it was damn delicious.

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