Why We Started Lost Lantern With A Road Trip

The Lost Lantern team at Spirit Works Distillery in Sebastopol, California

The Lost Lantern team at Spirit Works Distillery in Sebastopol, California

Nora and I have been traveling around the country for more than three months now, and although we’ve visited 13 national parks along the way and are having lots of adventures, our road trip is decidedly not a vacation. In fact, we see our journey as an essential and fundamental part of our vision for what Lost Lantern will become.

Craft whiskey is a national phenomenon. Until quite recently, just about all of America’s serious whiskey distilleries were in the three adjacent states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana (a handful of others, like the old Pennsylvania incarnation of Michter’s, held out for a long time after Prohibition and the world wars but ultimately closed long before my time).

That’s not true anymore. Now, there are distilleries in every state of the country, many of them reviving lost techniques or exploring unique ways of making whiskey influenced by their local environment. Some of these distilleries are relatively large and established; some are laying down a lot of whiskey but waiting years until they feel that it’s ready; others are quite small and only sell in their local area.

That’s why Nora and I hit the road to launch Lost Lantern--why we essentially had to. In my former position at Whisky Advocate, I had the good fortune to meet many of the top craft distillers from around the country and get to know their whiskeys. But there are over 1,600 distilleries now, and many of them don’t have the time, resources, or sometimes even the desire to come to New York and introduce themselves to the media. Of course, these smaller distilleries can make great whiskey too. We’re traveling, in part, to find these distilleries that aren’t well-known nationally.

We want Lost Lantern to be an independent bottler of great American craft whiskey--and not just American craft whiskey that already has national name recognition. We love most of those big names too (“big” being a very relative term in craft whiskey) and absolutely want to showcase some of the unique whiskeys they make. But we also want to introduce whiskey lovers to distilleries they don’t already know.

Beyond that, Nora and I believe very strongly in transparency, and that extends to the partners we work with. We’re choosing to travel the country and visit these distilleries in person so we can see how they operate, and so they can see how we operate. Nobody has done something quite like Lost Lantern before, not with craft whiskey, and we want to share our vision for the company directly with the founders and distillers we hope to work with. Maybe we could have launched Lost Lantern without ever leaving New York, explaining our mission and requesting barrel samples by email. But that’s not how we wanted to present ourselves to the community of distillers… nor would it help us advance our own knowledge and palates. We learn so much from every distillery we visit--about production, about maturation, about business, about the weird web of laws that vary dramatically state-to-state. Nora and I have been in the industry in various ways for a long time, but now, having visited dozens of distilleries in dozens of states in just a few months, we’re in the thick of it more than ever before.

And we’re only halfway done!