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The U.S. whiskey scene is by no means hurting for a lack of independent bottlers and non-distiller producers (NDPs). In fact, it often feels like the sheer number of little boutique bottling operations is beginning to exceed the number that could reasonably be maintained, especially with so many of them drawing on the same handful of companies for sourced whiskey, such as MGP of Indiana, Jim Beam, or Heaven Hill. But every now and then, you do come across a concept that is something truly and utterly new. And Lost Lantern is doing something unmistakably new in American whiskey.
This Weybridge, Vermont company does some pretty “standard” sourcing, picking a wide variety of barrels (in all sorts of styles) from a bevy of small producers. But it has also introduced a new product for which it will no doubt generate a lot of new attention: Lost Lantern American Vatted Malt Edition No. 1.
“Vatted malt” is an antiquated term without much of a proper definition in the U.S., but in the U.K. it implies a blend of single malt whiskies (100% malt whiskies from single distilleries) collected from several companies. In the Scottish whisky industry, such operations are common, as all the major distilling companies sell stocks of whisky to one another. In the U.S. industry, such blends are more common in bourbon and rye, where an independent bottler may create their own blend sourced from an array of major distilleries.
American Vatted Malt Edition No. 1, though, is quite different for several key reasons:
— These are all malt whiskies, from the emerging and maturing American single malt demographic.
— The six distilleries included are all small and independent distilleries from around the country. They include Balcones (TX), Copperworks (WA), Santa Fe Spirits (NM), Triple Eight (MA), Westward (OR) and Virginia Distillery Co. (VA).
— Perhaps most importantly, all six distilleries were invited to take part in creating the final blend, making American Vatted Malt Edition No. 1 a true collaboration rather than the work of a singular blender. Representatives of all six distilleries, plus Lost Lantern, assembled in Denver to blend 12 barrels that had been distilled and aged in starkly different ways. They emerged with a 3,000 bottle batch of something totally unique.
So yeah—American Vatted Malt Edition No. 1 can be compared to little else, because it blends the fruits of six American distilleries that are making extremely different takes on American single malt whiskey. Some of the whiskeys here have been matured in newly charred oak. Others have aged in re-used bourbon barrels. Others have had secondary maturations in sherry or re-toasted wine barrels. The barrels from Santa Fe Spirits are also distinct in their use of some mesquite-smoked malt, meaning that there’s a smoked component here as well. Suffice to say, there’s a lot going on, with an age range of 2-6.5 years on the whiskeys, although the label will read merely “2 years” thanks to U.S. law requiring it to reflect the age of the youngest whiskey in the blend. It’s even presented at an unusually potent 52.5% ABV (105 proof), which helps to justify an admittedly high MSRP of $120. In the past, that might have been a sticking point for me, but with so few other products to compare this one to, it’s hard to argue against the price of effort and novelty it reflects.
So with all that finally said, let’s taste this blend and see how it reflects the breadth of the American single malt category.
On the nose, American Vatted Malt Edition No. 1 initially leads with a trifecta of grain, fruit and honeyed sweetness. There are definitely some more cereal grain notes here from some of the younger whiskeys in the blend, with some “doughy” and malty tones, which are supported by pleasant fruity notes of apricot, plum and sultana. Over time, and especially after going in for a first taste, more of the smoke note and earthiness starts to be teased out, although the mesquite smokiness doesn’t read as similar to the peat smoke of more aggressively smoky Islay scotch. Ethanol is quite mild for the proof. At first, I thought this nose was pleasant but a bit muted for the 105 proof in particular, but with time it blooms nicely, combining fruit and delicate smoke in particular.
On the palate, this blend pushes in an interesting direction, introducing new notes that I wasn’t picking up strongly on the nose. The fruitiness is still present, but it strikes me as more like peach and citrus here, which is complemented by quite a bit of chocolate and roastiness. It’s almost a stout beer-like roastiness, combining bittersweet dark chocolate with light char and a hint of espresso. The wisp of smoke is also present, but this is very subtle in terms of smoke in comparison with just about anything from Islay, with a different character to the smoke as well—sweet and savory at once, rather than sour, medicinal or maritime. As on the nose, the ethanol is surprisingly well integrated for the overproof strength.
All in all, American Vatted Malt Edition No. 1 offers a satisfying puzzle for your palate, which wins one over increasingly with each sip. It’s a bit hard to wrap your head around at first, owing to the truly diverse array of whiskeys being combined here, but the assembled distilleries ultimately hit on something that seems to be greater than the sum of its parts, without being overly defined by any one of the contributions. In particular the use of smoke is quite deft.
If you’re at all interested in American single malt as a category, this becomes an obvious bottle to be on the lookout for.