Google Tasting the Lost Spirits Abomination bottlings

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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

October 21, 2017



Angus's Corner
From our casual Scottish correspondent
and guest taster Angus MacRaild
Tasting the Lost Spirit's Abomination bottlings
The story goes something like this: Jim Murray’s scores for these two ‘Abomination’ bottlings from the Lost Spirits distillery in Los Angeles are published. Lo and behold they are notably high. High enough that the Lost Spirits people put out a press release off the back of it and a massive jobbie-storm ensues on social media and amongst the whisky nerderati.


The reason for all this is that these bottlings are created from young distillate. 12 - 18 month old peated Islay spirit to be precise. This distillate - considerable shy of legally being termed whisky here in Scotland - was infused with oak staves rather intensely over a period of six days at the Lost Spirits distillery in America. They have a ‘patented reactor’, which looks rather like a stainless steel whisky Tardis. The problem of course is not that people create these kinds of products, or do these kinds of experiments, or indeed that anyone could claim with total certainty that this sort of approach wouldn’t produce a good quality spirit. What has got people up in arms are lines of pure click-baiting hyperbole like: “Lost Spirits has made history by becoming the first spirits-maker to reach the pinnacle of whisky making by "hacking" the chemistry of barrel ageing”. So it has become one of these meta-stories that manages to encapsulate: marketing nonsense; PR bullshit; debates about Jim Murray and his scoring and influence; the definition of whisky and an almost philosophical argument about the nature and definition of ageing and maturation.  


Personally, I have no issue with people experimenting with different ways to make interesting spirits. Some call it innovation, but it’s a word which is so often tossed around with little consideration these days. It may be innovative, but the question is who does it innovate for? The producer or the consumer? Of course, it can be both. I read with interest the debate on social media over the past week about this. Understandably it has drawn many contrary, and some pretty fierce opinions. Perhaps what sticks out most is this notion that this process has recreated the characteristics of aged malt whisky. As one commenter in the Malt Maniacs forum put it: “’s structure and taste is similar to that of a 30 year old Islay whisky.” These are bold assertions and I remain dubious. However, I am curious to try these two spirits and come up with my own conclusions. So, without further ado...  


Abomination ‘The Crying Of The Puma’ (54%, OB, Lost Spirits Distillery, +/-2017) Abomination ‘The Crying Of The Puma’ (54%, OB, Lost Spirits Distillery, +/-2017) The liquid aside, I smell nonsense in the name for one thing. This one was infused with oak which had previously been used to make Late Harvest Riesling wine, which is a curiosity in itself. The staves for this one were toasted and the reactor exposed the distillate and the wood together with varying levels of temperature and light. Colour: Deep amber. Nose: A very pure kind of peat. Crystalline and sharp with notes of char underneath. A cooling BBQ. Some mentholated notes such as toothpaste are followed by smoked grist, sea salt and bracken. The wood extraction is apparent but the sweetness merges well with the peat aspects. With time more and more notes of sawdust arise. Touches of wood glue and retsina ‘pine’ wine. With water: Becomes more herbal and more saline. Some touches of antiseptic and mouthwash. Perhaps some black tea and green wood. Mouth: The wood is more upfront on the palate. An obvious extractive quality with the peat more subdued. More charred and burnt notes. Crispy bacon, tar resin, eucalyptus oil and pine cones. But the vanilla is pretty sickly and the whole thing sort of seesaws between extractive and cloying. With water:  I’m not sure water helps a great deal. More tar, perhaps some medicine but also still quite oaky with these notes of pencil shavings and more wood glue. Finish: A little short really. Some sticky vanilla and smoked sea salt in the fade. Comments: The nose was quite pleasant but on the palate I struggled with it I have to say. The oak just feels clumsy and too heavy. But it is far from undrinkable and I know many people who would enjoy it more than I do (not just Mr Murray). SGP: 727 - 72 points.  


Abomination ‘The Sayers Of The Law’ (54%, OB, Lost Spirits Distillery, +/-2017)

Abomination ‘The Sayers Of The Law’ (54%, OB, Lost Spirits Distillery, +/-2017) This one is pretty much exactly the same except the staves were charred. Colour: Amber. Nose: The peat is shyer in this one. There’s more cocoanut, crème brulée, vanilla butter, custard tarts. Perhaps a leathery quality and a kippery note in the background. Some gravel and cut grass. Notes of sawdust and pencil shavings again after some time. The wood is still pretty dominant. Perhaps a touch of cactus and a rugged Mezcal note. Something a little rubbery as well, like pencil erasers. With water: Again the whole becomes a tad more saline and briny. Perhaps some notes of seaweed or salted cod. These clumsy woody notes are still present though. Mouth: TCP, vanilla essence, ointment. Some dried herbs, Euthymol toothpaste, and then some cigarette ash. This is quite heavily extractive now, you feel it in the gums and tongue. More of these glue and wood paste aspects. Some mixed spice and tannins. The sweetness is kind of ‘gloopy’ with the peat sort of smouldering away in the corner. With water: some BBQ sauce, a little salt and vinegar, cod liver oil. Then some more vanilla extract and a little sootiness. Finish: A tad longer than the previous one. But still a little too cloying and imbalanced. Comments: Pretty much the same as the previous ones. Some of the flavours differ, but excessive wood and the lack of balance - what I consider flaws - remain. SGP: 737 - 71 points.



(Thanks to Derek at the terrific Artisan restaurant in Wishaw for the samples.)  


I had considered writing a note for a 30ish year old Caol Ila or something by way of comparison but I don’t really think there’s any point. And before I say anything else I should say I do not like overly oaky spirits; there are others who will enjoy these drinks more than I do. The above notes simply illustrate my own personal perspective. But it is also the perspective of someone who has been fortunate enough to try thousands of conventionally matured spirits by way of comparison.  


For all the chatter about this method of hyper-accelerated ‘ageing’ - and it’s worth remembering that these are not the first products to basically be super exposed to active oak - I feel these products only serve to highlight the importance of proper maturation. Remember, maturation is not only extractive and additive. It is also, and most importantly for longer aged whiskies, interactive. Technology may well replicated the addition of wood sugars, lignins, compounds and the like in a matter of days. But it cannot currently be a substitute for the slow enmeshment of distillate character and cask properties with the enigmatic nourishment of the dawdling - sometimes decades long - oxidative process with the air in the cask. There is also the point that even when a more active cask gives a more wood-dominant profile to spirit, the rate at which these wood compounds are given up and absorbed is also important. It can be the difference between imbalance and proper integration. Part of what makes whisky remarkable is that its most enigmatic, but vital, ingredient is time. Time in the process of making the distillate and time in the process of its maturation. I have no issue with people making these kinds of spirit drinks, in many ways they are impressive. But next to even a current bottling of Bowmore or Caol Ila 12 year old, they are a gimmick. One day technology may well be able to mimic beyond human organoleptic detection the characters and flavours of a 20 year old single malt in a matter of days or hours. And if that time comes then we will rightly have some deep pondering to do about what and why we value whisky and the role of time in its creation. But right now any notion that the real and complex aspects of maturation and time taken to create the flavours of mature single malts can be replicated is nonsense. By all means make these products, but do not pretend they are something that they are not. And, most importantly, do not visit such deceptions upon the minds of enthusiasts and consumers just beginning their education and enjoyment of whisky.  







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