Reflecting On More Than A Year Without Travel
Visiting distilleries in person is a cornerstone of Lost Lantern. We launched Lost Lantern with an 8-month “Great Whiskey Road Trip” across the United States in 2018 and 2019, and between then and when the pandemic hit, we visited over a hundred distilleries all across the United States.
There is simply no better way to understand a distillery than to see it firsthand. Spending time talking to the founders, distillers, and blenders is how we learn what a distillery’s real vision is. Seeing their production—what kind of still they have, what fermenters and barrels they use, how they set up their warehouse, how and where they process their grain—helps us understand why their whiskey tastes the way it does, and even how it may taste in the future (especially at younger distilleries). Experiencing the regional climate and landscape gives us insight into how the environment shapes whiskey’s flavor over time, and even the local culture (of distilling, of drinking, of everything else) can reveal a lot. All these insights help us center and understand each distillery’s unique place in the wider world of distilling.
That’s why we committed early on that we will only ever buy whiskey from distilleries that we have visited in person.
Why We Visit Distilleries
When we visit distilleries, we’re not just popping in unannounced to do a tasting. We set up meetings with the owners/founders/distillers, tour the distillery and the warehouse (when we can), and sometimes taste out of the barrel. We ask a lot of questions.
This has led to many fun experiences, like having an unexpected four-hour Austria-Hungary themed lunch with Tad Seestedt at Ransom Spirits in Oregon and drinking amazing mezcal we could never have found in NYC at a Tucson mezcal bar with Stephen Paul from Whiskey Del Bac.
It has also led to less fun but still dramatic and exciting experiences, like having to take shelter inside Balcones Distilling, during their 10th anniversary party, when tornado sirens went off (the distillery is one of the few multistory buildings that survived the Waco tornado outbreak of 1953). Luckily, it’s a big distillery, and nobody besides us seemed particularly alarmed.
There was also the time we had to flee a meeting at Frey Ranch Distillery outside Reno, Nevada to race to Lake Tahoe before a storm blocked the pass (we made it, but it was… harrowing).
Traveling and visiting distilleries is one of the cornerstones of Lost Lantern. So in hindsight, it’s a really good thing we spent so much time upfront exploring the country and visiting distilleries. Because that has been essentially impossible for the last 16 months!
So far, we have released single cask whiskies from New Mexico, Iowa, New York, Texas, and Arizona. Our flagship American Vatted Malt includes whiskies from Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Texas, Virginia, and Massachusetts. We have been to every one of those states and all the distilleries, including the ones for the blend. And all of this was well before the pandemic!
Laying that groundwork early on has paid off. We have a lot more amazing whiskies in the pipeline already, and more to come, all of them coming from states that we visited either on our 8-month Great Whiskey Road Trip or our month-long Midwest distillery tour in late 2019. We’ll soon have whiskies from Colorado, Ohio, California, and beyond. Some of them will be from distilleries you probably already know, and some from distilleries that most of you won’t have heard about before.
Where We Haven’t Visited
What we won’t have is whiskies from the Southeast. Because we haven’t been to the Southeast yet.
Oh, sure, we’ve been to Kentucky numerous times, both as the founders of Lost Lantern and in our previous careers as a whiskey journalist and spirits retail expert. And Kentucky has a huge number of increasingly exciting younger distilleries, not to mention the historic and established big players. We’ve visited distilleries there and will certainly do some Kentucky whiskies when the time is right. We’ve also visited a few distilleries in Virginia before.
But neither of us has ever been to Tennessee, which has one of the most vibrant craft distilling scenes in the country (also the most vibrant hot chicken scene). We haven’t been to the coast of Georgia and the Carolinas, or to the Arkansas interior, or to the Deep South or Gulf Coast. All these places are home to an increasing number of distilleries, some of them very well regarded, some that we’re already big fans of.
We have a short list of places we want to visit and probably work with.
But we haven’t been there. So there’s nothing in our pipeline from that part of the country yet.
This oversight was never supposed to last this long. In fact, we had very concrete plans to start exploring the Southeast and hunting down whiskey. We had even figured out the itinerary, and knew exactly when we were going to hit the road: April 2020. Yeah. Clearly that didn’t happen.
But now that travel is opening up again, we are making plans to finally get down to this important region and start visiting distilleries. Depending on how the COVID situation looks in a few months, we’re hoping to head down there as soon as the leaves fall in Vermont.
Could we get barrel samples now, probably from the very distilleries we’ll likely end up working with? I’m sure we could.
But to be able to tell the stories of these places and to understand them the way we want to, we need to see them in person. And so we’ll be patient. Impatiently.