The science of instantly aging spirits

The science of instantly aging spirits
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The science of instantly aging spirits

In 2015 Bryan Davis, co-founder and distiller at California-based Lost Spirits Distillery became the first - and is still the only - company to successfully age distilled spirits in a laboratory.

How it works

At the Lost Spirits Distillery a spirits-aging reactor called Thea (named after the Titan goddess of light) makes rum and whiskey taste decades old within a week.  The process is based on the chemical reactions which would normally happen during traditional barrel aging, involving oak staves and measured exposure to heat and light: “it works well with rum and whiskey,” says Bryan, adding that he hadn't yet figured out how to do get the same results with bourbon (which is produced from corn rather than the traditional malted barley).

Bryan, who has been dabbling in distilling since his teens, started producing rum and absinthe for his friends during his college years.  After graduating he started an absinthe distillery in Spain (Obsello, since sold) with long-time girlfriend and partner, Joanne Haruta. In 2005, the couple returned to California and started Lost Spirits, now based in Los Angeles.


His research into rapid aging began years before his “a-ha” moment in 2014, when Bryan noticed the wood was splitting on his deck. “I thought, if the sun can disintegrate the wood, it must be breaking apart the polymer structures, just like aging spirits in a barrel.”

With this idea, he then attempted to photo-degrade wood. “I mixed some oak with booze in a glass container, then used every light fixture I could find for exposure. It worked,” he says. He attributes his results to learning as much as he could about chemical reactions and what happens in barrels. “Nobody really understood that before—or if they did, it wasn’t published anywhere I could find it,” he says.

The Mad Scientist

Channeling his inner Mad Scientist, Davis began experimenting with the technique. “I was developing a product based on what I thought the rum in Pirates of the Caribbean would taste like,” he recalls. “When I got the technology where I thought—based on taste—that mine was quite similar to the bottle of 1975 Port Mouraunt I had as a gold standard, I sent them both off for analysis, which revealed they had remarkably similar chemical signatures. When I announced the technology in April 2015, I published the evidence as a way of backing up the statements.”

Back to 1850 and Operation One Nightstand

The results became the distillery’s flagship product, Navy Rum (Lost Spirits’ whiskey lineup is called Abomination.  A newer project aims to recreate 1850s Medford rum, for which Bryan and his team placed petri dishes in Medford and used the yeast they had collected to help create the rum.

He points out that, “presumably, chestnut trees would have been used back then, but they’re virtually extinct now. So we bought 1850s furniture and extracted the raw wood. We started with a nightstand, so the experiment is called ‘Operation One Nightstand.’ It’s like Jurassic Park alcohol,” Bryan laughs.

  • To date Lost Spirits Distillery has been granted four US patents and international protection in China, Australia, Japan and the latest being in November 2020 in Israel.



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