LOST REPUBLIC SINGLE BARREL CASK STRENGTH RYE
Barrel LRCR01 (2019)
MASH BILL – 95% rye, 5% barley
PROOF – 116
AGE – 2 years
DISTILLERY – Lost Republic Distilling Co. (sourced in California)
PRICE – $71
BUY AGAIN? – Not often, but I might…
Lost Republic was first recommended to me in 2016 when I stopped into Ledger’s Liquor in Berkeley, CA. Ed Ledger, legendary in the Bay Area whiskey community for his straightforward demeanor and exceptional tastes in private barrel picks, plunked a squat bottle of Lost Republic Bourbon on the counter and said it was among his favorite new local whiskeys. So I gave it a go.
At that time the Lost Republic Bourbon was a blend of sourced Indiana, Tennessee, and California bourbons aged 2 to 3 years. I thought it was okay, but too young for my tastes. Then I tried their rye, and although it was of a similar age I enjoyed it. A year later I picked up a bottle of their single barrel cask strength bourbon, and this I quite liked. The higher proof brought out more flavor and nuance from the young whiskey. I picked up another bottle the next season it was released.
So when they bottled their first offering of a single barrel cask strength rye in 2019, I didn’t hesitate. The proof, like both bourbon cask strength releases before it, is also 116. This tells us Lost Republic is using “cask strength” loosely. They’re hardly unique in that regard. It’s not a term with a legal definition. But when a brand’s cask strength releases are always the exact same proof, you know they’re watering it down from something higher to what they’ve determined tastes best. That’s fine. But in my quest for honest whiskeys I prefer it when “cask strength” means the proof straight out of the cask.
A stat on this bottle that differs from that first bourbon I picked up four years ago is that the whiskey is “distilled in California” and not also two other states. I can’t recall if the rye was ever a multi-region affair. Being a fan of local businesses, I like that Lost Republic, which is based in Healdsburg, Sonoma County, is perhaps now more fully the California whiskey producer they’ve always marketed themselves to be. They even use new high quality California barrels intended for aging wine, rather than barrels coopered for whiskey. It’s a local touch that of course also contributes to Lost Republic’s Northern Californian flavor profile.
Then there is the brand name itself: Lost Republic. It is a reference to the Bear Flag Revolt of July 1846, when some American expats from the east coast rebelled against the local Mexican government and declared the region an independent republic. Soon after, the American military arrived to occupy the territory and in 1850 California was declared a state. The independent republic ended but its bear remains in the California flag. With all we know about this history—the genocide of Native Americans, and the irony of people leaving America in search of the American dream—it’s a complicated thing for a whiskey company to honor without apparent examination.
In any case, I left the bottle at my work and forgot about it for a long time. It was only just recently, a few months into the new Stay-at-Home era, that I went back to my office for the first time and collected a few bottles I had bunkered there.
I opened it a week ago when a friend came by for some physically distanced sipping on the front stoop. I was immediately struck by its bright, syrupy caramel note. It tasted young, as I’ve come to expect from Lost Republic. But it was good. My partner liked it too, and has been using it almost nightly for her favorite cocktail: 2 ounces of rye or bourbon with 4 ounces of ginger-lemon kombucha. This accounts for why the bottle is already so low just one week in. And in fact as I was writing this post she killed the bottle!
So here we are, one week to not only the day but the hour after uncorking, and I’m tasting a few among the final handful of ounces in a traditional Glencairn. Here are the notes in brief:
COLOR – golden orange
NOSE – a grove of spring pine trees, fresh rye grains and grasses, bright caramel, some oak and a light sprinkling of baking spices
TASTE – that wonderful syrupy caramel note up front, with the fresh uncut pine, a nice burst of peppery rye spice, then another wave of the caramel
FINISH – caramel, pine, baking spices, some fresh baked bread
OVERALL – like a sunny Northern California spring afternoon: refreshing and bright
I’m continually surprised by how Lost Republic products manage to taste so very young and yet also appeal to me. So many other 2-year bourbons and ryes have not. Here the young grain and wood flavors that so often go too gritty or astringent for me are tempered by that great syrupy caramel note and an overall freshness that vividly conjures for me the sights, smells, and sounds of this region I grew up in.
I also understand why my partner put nearly the entire bottle toward her kombucha cocktails. The rye spices and sweet caramel of the Lost Republic pair exceptionally well with the kombucha’s ginger, lemon, and earthy tea flavors. And because the Lost Republic’s flavors come on so strong they do not get lost among the kombucha’s own intense flavors.
All in all, Lost Republic products taste young enough, and I don’t personally prefer those young flavors enough, that these bourbons and ryes won’t be a regular feature on my shelf. But if I were out of stock and found one of the flavorful “cask strength” bottlings on sale, I’d certainly consider picking one up. I can enjoy it well enough neat, especially on a sunny Summer afternoon like today, and my partner has more than demonstrated she’ll put it to good and regular use. So I can trust it will do what a good whiskey should. Lost Republic reminds me that a whiskey need not be squarely to my tastes to be worthwhile.