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Colonial Rum, Renewed

Lost Spirits Distillery’s Colonial American Inspired Rum revamps and perfects the original American spirit.

Henry Phillips

With its Greco-Roman, Manifest Destiny bottle art, you’d be forgiven for thinking Lost Spirits Distillery‘s Colonial American Inspired Rum is just another tchotchke on the revivalist shelf — Americana for novelty’s sake. You’d be forgiven, and you’d be mistaken. Lost Spirits does what all revivalists ought to: reproduce and improve upon antiquity rather than ape it.

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That’s their founding principle as a distillery, in fact, and one that they uphold with an unmatched focus on technological innovation — which is because Lost Spirits’ primary operation is a research laboratory. This is why, rather than touting their lineage or adherence to tradition, their website is used to display their research on the science of oak aging. The papers note that “Much of the information printed [on oak aging] also contains gross factual errors and flawed assumptions… The most comprehensive study on the topic was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society in 1908 by C. A. Crampton and L. M. Tolman. Unfortunately Crampton and Tolman lacked modern tools such as gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy, making their work very incomplete.” Above all else, these papers prove one thing: the folks at Lost Spirits know their shit.

Lost Spirits does what all revivalists ought to: reproduce and improve upon antiquity rather than ape it.

As its name implies, the cola-black liquid inside their latest bottle harkens back to the rum distillation method common first among colonial sailors, then among settlers both in North America and the Caribbean. Before advancements by Cuban distillers brought clear and amber rums to the fore, these settlers distilled single batches of grade A molasses in pot stills. The spirit was historically vile; sailors usually mixed it with water and lime juice. (They called this mixture “Grogg”, which is probably the noise people made after swallowing it.)

Lost Spirits sought to reinvigorate this early method owing to its similarity with the spirit they cut their teeth on: single-malt Scotch. The original spirit is entirely clear; perhaps deceptively, aging the spirit in both charred and toasted barrels lends it the characteristic midnight hue of a blackstrap rum (rum mixed with blackstrap molasses). Engineers at heart, Lost Spirits meticulously manipulated a climate-controlled room to extract as much flavor as possible from the barrels. According to Head Distiller Bryan Alexander Davis, this method has allowed them to reproduce the exact “fingerprint” of a 20-year-old rum, mimicking the exact chemical makeup of decades-old spirits in a spirit a mere handful of years old (the exact age of the rum has yet to be announced). Similarly, by selecting specific strains of bacteria for their banana-based yeast with which the molasses was fermented, Lost Spirits pinpointed precise flavors for the finished product. The rum, finished in Napa red wine barrels lent by Bounty Hunter Rare Wines & Spirits, is bottled overproof at 62% ABV. So it’s every bit as harsh as what those sailors drank on the high seas, but not for a lack of craftsmanship.

It’s easy to feel skeptical, but the proof is in the pudding: this rum is every bit as complex as a revered spirit like Black Tot, a rare issue of bottles containing the last of the British Navy’s rum rations. As you’d expect, the first whiff or two will nearly singe the nose hairs. Let it sit and allow the complexities to unfold: hints of duck fat, pepper, raisins, molasses and brown sugar smother the nostrils, then gradually unveil the lighter notes of vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon hiding underneath. Like that first whiff, unpleasantness is at the fore, a gin-like dryness sitting on the tongue and front palate like a sour houseguest. With each subsequent sip, pungent prunes, caramelized bananas and over-ripe plantains step forward, while a finish of unsweetened cola and seltzer renews the palate, like shaking an Etch-a-Sketch.

This rum will kick your ass if you don’t give it the time it needs. Slowly, the nose reveals licorice, allspice, leather and tobacco, which resurfaces in the mouth buoyed by oaky red wine tannins, all of which carries into the finish. Like the string of pearls that crawls down the sides of your glass, the rum develops slowly as molasses (natch). Your mouth will feel cleaner than it ever has minutes after it is gone. The rum demands the very same patience as the aging process itself (traditionally, anyway), and a willingness to brace through the bitterness. But offer that patience, and it’ll match your offer with a gracious rewards: a gratifying glimpse at the history of rum, and a promising taste of what’s ahead.

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