What we’re drinking: Lost Lantern’s American Vatted Malt Edition #1 and five Spring 2021 releases/collaborations.
Where it’s from: Founded by Nora Ganley-Roper and Adam Polonski and launched last fall — delayed from an April 2020 start because of you-know-what — Lost Lantern is an independent bottler of American whiskey.
“We source different casks and single malts from around the country,” explains Polonski, a former whiskey journalist. “This model has existed in Scotland for 200 years. It’s a great discovery method.”
The idea here is Lost Lantern is not only shining a light on smaller, regional distilleries, but also getting that whiskey out to a larger swath of the country. As well, these releases are specifically designed for whiskey connessours — they’re non-chill filtered and cask strength.
Why we’re drinking this: Because this is rare whiskey from underappreciated or obscure craft distilleries … and it’s not even stuff those distillers are releasing on their own. “This is the stuff we’d want to drink ourselves,” says Ganley-Roper, who got her start in spirits retail at New York’s Astor Wines and Spirits. “Besides getting this stuff out there, we’re also releasing these expressions from distilleries where the whiskey doesn’t fit their standard profile. We’ll hear from these distillers, ‘I was holding on to these three special casks and I want to get them out, but I don’t have a pipeline for them.’”
It’s also about transparency: You can find out all the information on these smaller distilleries both on Lost Lantern’s bottles and on their website.
How it tastes: We tested the closest thing Lost Lantern has to a “core” release: American Vatted Malt, a collaboration with six different regional distilleries around the U.S. We also tried three expressions of a Southwest single malt from Whiskey Del Bac, Texas bourbon from Balcones and cool climate/Northeastern rye from New York Distilling Co.
The good news/bad news is that all of them were distinct and wonderful … and extremely limited release (some number as few as 60 bottles). Our favorite, the mesquite-smoked expressions from the Tucson-based Whiskey Del Bac, were a revelation. Only matured a year or two, the three expressions (now sold out online) presented a perfect American answer to peated Scotch. They were basically like a barbecue in your mouth.
The Vatted Malt featured wonderful orange and chocolate notes with a bit of salinity. While this will change with each year’s edition, it might be your best bet in sampling both a growing category (American single malt) and tasting something that will never be replicated again.
The Balcones release had a charred corn-on-the-cob taste, an excellent primer to what Texas corn brings to a whiskey. And the NYDC rye was far more delicate (and interesting) than the packing-heat variety you might find from ryes via Kentucky or Indiana.
Fun fact: Ganley-Roper and Polonski were married last year; due to COVID, they had their wedding in Ganley-Roper’s parents’ backyard in Vermont (six people total), where they opened their first Lost Lantern bottle.
Where to buy it: Again, due to COVID, Lost Lantern had to quickly shift to an almost entirely direct-to-consumer model at launch (though you might find their stuff in a few stores in California). Due to the limited nature of these releases ($70-$120), we’d suggest you act fast. New stuff should be coming out seasonally.
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