Lost Spirits Distillery co-founder Bryan Davis’ rapid maturation process has been the buzz of the spirits world since its introduction in 2015—even more so since its patent was awarded last year. After all, he’s seemingly created a time machine for aging liquor.
THEA (named after the Titan goddess of light) is a spirits-aging reactor that makes rum and whiskey taste decades old after only about a week. The process, based on the chemical reactions that happen during traditional barrel aging, involves oak staves and measured exposure to heat and light. “It works well with rum and whiskey,” says Davis. “I haven’t figured out how to do it with bourbon yet.”
Davis began his distilling career as a teen in Monterey County, Calif., when he began making rum for his friends. In college, he moved on to absinthe. After graduating with a degree in fine arts, he designed experiences at amusement parks—but never lost the desire to make booze. 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 he 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.
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.”
The results became the distillery’s flagship product, Navy rum (Lost Spirits’ whiskey lineup is called Abomination, a nod to Davis’ unconventional process).
A newer project aims to recreate 1850s Medford rum. “We put petri dishes in Medford and used the yeast we collected to help create the rum,” says Davis.
“Presumably, chestnut trees would have been used back then, but they’re virtually extinct now,” he continues. “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,” he laughs. “What could possibly go wrong?”