Recently, someone emailed us and asked us: What “officially” makes Lost Lantern an independent bottler? Did we have to apply for an independent bottlers’ license or join some industry association? For that matter, what is an independent bottler?
It’s a good question! And I think it’s worth exploring our philosophy on what an independent bottler really is in a little more depth.
Why Is Lost Lantern An Independent Bottler?
There is no “official” designation or industry association that declares Lost Lantern, or anyone else in the United States, an independent bottler. In part that’s because, until very recently, there were no independent bottlers in the United States. Independent bottlers have existed for almost 200 years in Scotland, but they’re almost totally new to the United States. There is no clear blueprint for creating an independent bottler, let alone a license. Of course, we had to get an array of federal and state licenses to operate, but that’s true for anyone who makes or bottles spirits.
So there’s nothing “official” on paper that makes Lost Lantern an independent bottler. Nevertheless, we are one. In fact, we think of ourselves as the first true independent bottler of American whiskey, or at least the first that focuses only on American whiskey. More on that later.
That’s not to say we’re the first people to source American whiskey that we didn’t make. That isn’t new at all! Companies do it all the time. But sourcing whiskey is not the same thing as being an independent bottler.
Sourcing vs Independent Bottling: What Is An Independent Bottler?
Independent bottlers have a long tradition in Scotland. Scotch independent bottlers generally release single malts from all around Scotland. Some of these are single casks, some are blends of multiple casks from the same distillery. Larger independent bottlers also create their own blends with unique flavor profiles. And in Scotland, I.B.s have played a very important role in the growth of single malt and the revival of many distilleries as their own independent brands.
Lost Lantern is an independent bottler because of the way we source whiskey and the way we choose to operate. And when we use those two particular words, “independent bottler,” we are deliberately evoking the long Scotch tradition that we are so inspired by. As far as we’re concerned, there are a few key factors that make us a true independent bottler:
- We are totally transparent that we are sourcing whiskey.
- We want everyone to know exactly where our whiskey comes from.
- We work with a wide variety of distilleries, and we showcase what makes them special.
All of these pieces are really important, and they come together to make something unique that is quite distinct from other whiskey companies that source.
We are incredibly proud of our transparency. Any company that sources straight whiskey from a different state needs to disclose it (although not all of them actually do). But there are many ways to disclose it without being particularly transparent. If you don’t know what I mean… next time you’re in a whiskey store, take a look at a few American whiskies and see how long it takes to find one that says “Distilled in Indiana” in small type on the back, even though the front label talks about some other state.
Independent Bottlers vs. Traditional Whiskey Blenders
Lost Lantern doesn’t do that. We are loud and proud about sourcing whiskey. More than that, we want everyone to know where our whiskey comes from. That’s why we display the source distillery names very prominently on our labels. Our single cask from Watershed Distillery in Columbus, Ohio says “Watershed Distillery Ohio Straight Bourbon Whiskey” right on the front label! There’s no mistaking where we got it from. Sharing the source of our whiskey is, in fact, the entire point.
That’s because working with great and unique distilleries is the cornerstone of what we do. For us, telling the stories of the whiskies we select and the distilleries we source from is a major part of our mission. That’s why we display the source distillery names so prominently (not just for our single casks, but for our first blend too!). This is closely aligned with the Scottish tradition.
It’s also important that we work with a wide variety of distilleries (more than a dozen so far, and that’s just in our first year!). We want Lost Lantern to serve as a discovery mechanism: for distilleries that people may not know, and for unique and unusual whiskies from more well-known distilleries. That’s the key difference between us and some of other American blenders who are transparent about their sourcing, but focus more on creating consistent flavor profiles. As an American independent bottler, we work with distilleries to find special casks that showcase that distillery at its best.
To us, that’s the difference between an independent bottler and a blending house. Companies like Compass Box and High West blend amazing whisky (the latter also distills really good whiskey too!). They are all very transparent about the fact that they’re sourcing whiskey. And you can pretty easily find out exactly where most of their whiskies come from. But the distilleries they work with are secondary to the story and process of the blend itself. Compass Box will tell you if part of a blend came from, say, Clynelish distillery. But it doesn’t really emphasize, for instance, how the climate, environment, and production methods at Clynelish distillery make the whisky different from a Lowland Scotch. It’s about the blend itself.
We deeply respect this approach, and we drink a lot of Compass Box, High West, and other blenders. But it’s slightly different than the approach we take as an American independent bottler.
For us, for both single casks and blends, we do want to highlight the curation process–and the unique characteristics of each distillery. We want to tell people where the whiskey came from, why we chose it, why it tastes the way it tastes, why we’re excited about that distillery and whiskey. We host Instagram Lives with distillers we work with so they can talk about what they’re doing. We explore the terroir of American whiskey, all across the country. We showcase distilleries that often have limited availability, or shine a light on another side of more familiar names. It’s not just about what we do. Lost Lantern is all about the distilleries we work with.
I would say that’s what makes us an independent bottler.