Santeria

Santeria-RG1

Product of:  USA
Aged:   One week in THEA 1
Price: $40
Alcohol: 57.5% ABV 
Sugar: 0-5 g/L (estimate)
Context: Overproof Rum
RG Rating: 9.5

Tasting Notes 
Santeria shows a dark garnet/brown color.  The absence of sugar, additives or filtering results in a partially occluded spirit that clings to the side of a tasting glass, producing a riot of legs both thick, long, and skinny.  But appearance is not what this rum is about.  Master Distiller Bryan Davis’ prioritizes massive flavors in his rums first and focuses on aromas second.  While he and I have inverse tasting priorities, I still consider Lost Spirits’ rums to be exceptional. 

Pull the cork, and a big, musty, pungent, heavily wooded bouquet declares “The Bottle is Open”!  Then the unmistakably bold aromas so characteristic of Lost Spirits’ previous rums hit your nose with tobacco, shoe leather, scents from last week’s tropical fruit and a hint of band-aid.  Oaken vanilla is present too, but overshadowed by the potency of more volatile esters. 

The initial taste delivers a velvet hammer of odorous flavors softened  by a sweet oak entry, then a mouthful, like a heavy-on-the-butter crust pie full of with spicy overripe tart fruit surrounds your palate.  The finish is kind to your throat, tapering away at a moderate pace, and leaving behind the richer flavors one associates with an old-world, funky Jamaican-style pot distilled aged rum. 

Accelerated Aging Process
The initial batches of Santeria rum - including the bottle reviewed here - were distilled and matured by Lost Spirits Distillery in California [click here for a photo tour].  Subsequent production will more to rational Spirits distillery in South Carolina, USA.  Rational licensed one of the first THEA 1.0 Reactor machine built by Lost Spirits for esterifying liquor to rapidly replicate what takes mother nature and oak barrels years to accomplish.

Santeria @ Lost Spirits Foyer-RG1

Master Distiller Bryan Davis explains in his typical coherent fashion:  “Specific strains of bacteria were selected for their ability to produce desirable esters when added to molasses with a yeast developed by Lost Spirits.  Their process of bio-engineering bacteria approximates the dunder used to great aromatic effect in some very pungent Jamaican rums. The idea was simple, but the effect was significant.  Instead of leaving the dunder bacterial fermentation to chance, it was grown using specifically chosen bugs.  The "dunder" was altered in terms of its composition to allow the new bugs to survive, as they would not normally grow in real dunder.”  

“The specific strains of bacteria were selected for their ability to produce acids which post-distillation would convert into desirable esters (yummy fruity flavors) with a critically low-taste-threshold.  Conversely, the raw, left over acids, which didn't convert to esters (the undesirable pukey and fecal aromas) would have a critically high-taste-threshold. So as a consumer, you wouldn't be able to detect the latter.  The goal was to maximize the fruity characteristics and minimize the residual yuck.”

“It is worth noting that the bacteria don't live on in the fermentation.  They are neutralized before being added to the fermentation, so the acids they made when alive could be largely converted to esters by the yeast without the yeast having to compete with the bacteria while trying to make alcohol.  The wash contains only four ingredients:  molasses, yeast, the acids made by the bacteria, and neutralized bacteria; and all contribute to the rum’s unique profile.”

Santeria @ Lost Spirits Reactor in Relief-RG1

To put THEA 1 in perspective, during a recent visit to Lost Spirits I lamented the oft-heard position that “Liquor is one of the most non-innovative industries in the World,” to which the ever-optimistic Bryan Davis replied: “It is innovative.  It just hasn’t had one in over 150 years, since Aeneas Coffey invented a new type of still.”  Words of wisom from the man who puts time in a bottle.  That’s THEA 1 in Lost Spirits’ showroom in the photo at left.

Names
Santeria is a syncretic religion that evolved from merging African and Catholic faiths, beginning in the 16th Century as a result of the triangle trade that brought African slaves to the New World.  I suspect it was chosen for the name of this rum because the spirit is a result of merging traditional pot distillation and Jamaican dunder-enhanced fermentation methods with patented modern photocatalytic techniques.

Helena Tiare Olsen, Brand Ambassador for Santeria elaborates: “…it`s because the way it´s made by the LS, it`s a bit of 'black magic' -  while in reality it´s actually science (as you know).”

Note: The p/q wax seal pressed over the label is Alexander Burns’ contribution.  His trademark applications indicate p/q stands for Pint/Quart, but my secret decoder ring reveals it’s the definition of a rational number.  Go figure.  Sure, the ex-Wall Streeter is embarking on a calculated risk that others’ would consider irrational; namely starting a rum distillery with no previous experience.  But his fixed values include a core team of rum geeks. 

Wikipedia has a typically adequate description of Santeria religion, click here.

THEA 1 is derived from two meanings.  It is both an acronym for Targeted Hyper Esterification Aging, as well as a goddess in Greek mythology.  Thea, more commonly spelled Theia, is a Titaness (goddess) whose brother/consort is Hyperion, himself a Titan and god of the Sun.  Greek mythology holds that their union produced Helios (the Sun), as well as Selene (the Moon), and Eos (the Dawn).  Considering that light (and lots of it) is the primary energy source used by THEA 1 to cause the affects of aging, the name seems appropriate.  Tech people are directed to Cocktail Wonk Matt Pietrek’s informative exposé of the reactor technology here.

Rational Spirits Logo

Opinion
The rums produced by Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits Distillery are as funky as America gets – I’ve witnessed the development of every rum produced at hi Lost Spirits Distillery over the past few years – none more so than Santeria.  It’s Davis’ most daringly scientific product yet, and perhaps his highest-volume rum, but it is also the culmination of intensively researched and applied chemistry, elevated by much experimentation.  From such a tiny skunk works distillery comes huge rums.  Future batches of Santeria will be produced by Rational Spirits in Alexander Burn’s own pot still and aged in a THEA 1 reactor licensed from Lost Spirits.  Alex has big footprints to follow, but the methodology is well in hand.  

Santeria Unaged 74%-RG1

You need this rum, if only to understand what one polar extreme of the World’s better rum spectrum offers.  One taste and you’ll recalibrate what means Potent.  It’s not too bold to sip, in fact I find it rather  pleasant.  But it is just as adept in cocktails that require big rum flavors.

Santeria Unaged 74%ABV
The Santeria white rum bottled prior to treatment in a THEA 1 reactor reminds me of some favorite high-ester Jamaican overproof rums.  As you would expect, the wood and vanilla notes of Santeria are absent, but the rum blanc rum allows the sweet ethanol to shine while showing much of the fruit, shoe leather and tobacco flavors.  It is really fun to drink.  With that rum as a base, it’s no wonder the aged version of Santeria packs so much flavor.

Reviewed:  Bottle #0000001*, September 2015 at The Rum Gallery, USA.

* Note: A production mistake resulted in the first 10 cases of Santeria to be labeled as bottle #0000001.  Alex Burns signed his initials to every Bottle 1.  Treat them as a collector’s item.  Subsequent production will be properly serialized.  

© Dave Russell 2017