August 26, 2017

The Disneyland of Distilleries (Before the Fire) (Updated for 2022)

Update 12/3/19: Lost Spirits suffered a small fire in early 2019 and took the opportunity to redo its distillery tour experience. You can see my report from the new tour here

[Update 12/6/21 10:12 AM PT—As of 2021, the Lost Spirits Distillery tour in Los Angeles is closed indefinitely. Lost Spirits has shifted its attention to its new distillery tour experience in Las Vegas.]

[Update 3/30/22 9:56 PM PT—An email from Lost Spirits sent out on 3/28/22 indicates that the Los Angeles distillery will be reopening, date TBA.]

Halloween came a little early this year.

When I took the distillery tour at Lost Spirits in the Arts District of Downtown LA, I found myself in a haunted house of sorts.

At least, it was some version of immersive theater, in which a taste of Navy-style rum leads you into a pirate's lair...

...where you might find Jack Sparrow himself, lurking among the miniature mo'ai.

A boat—yes, a boat—then takes you deeper into the Caribbean jungle...

...where yeast is actively fermenting away...

...and hand-hammered copper stills bear the heads of dragons.

Like many of the old brick buildings in this former industrial area of LA, the Lost Spirits distillery was some warehouse or another—though the tenants just prior to the distillery were busted for growing pot.

That meant the property was fully-wired with plenty of electricity—which the mad geniuses behind Lost Spirits would need for their "barrel room."

However, they're not aging any of their rums or peated malts (in the style of Scotch whiskey) in actual barrels. They're hacking the science down to the molecular level—esters and phenols and so on—to recreate flavors and tasting notes of aged spirits at breakneck speed.

What might traditionally take two years can take them 20 minutes. Twenty years can take six days. It's like, they say, trying to parallel park your car at the end of a freeway exit.

So what's the guiding principle of Lost Spirits and its high-tech, Willy Wonka-esque laboratory operations? It seems to be the question "What if?" That is, what would this taste like if we charred the wood instead of toasted it? What if we finished this with late harvest riesling instead of sherry? What if we invented our own spice?

It's the stuff of H.G. Wells and Ray Bradbury, limited only by the imaginations of those who are making their scientific fantasies very much a reality.

At this point, from a (bio)technical perspective, anything seems possible. Someone just has to think of it—or ask the question—first.

Much of the science that goes into making their "Abomination," "Modern Prometheus," and other concoctions went way over my head while our guide explained it. But in terms of the overall experience of being there—in that atmospheric setting instead of the antiseptic, steel-barreled, industrial park boxes I normally find myself in when I tour a distillery—I now wonder why other purveyors of potent potables haven't bothered to create some mystery and intrigue (and even a little weather).

Lost Spirits has only been open for tours for a couple of weeks, and as it creates new experimental releases, it plans to expand the tour (perhaps even including a chapel environment along the way).

And that means I might have to get back on the boat at some point. I will, of course, report back.

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