Road Trip, Part II

Today we hit the road again! After a month-long stay in Los Angeles, where we were able to focus exclusively on building Lost Lantern, we’re heading northeast, to southern Utah’s red rock canyons, and then down into Arizona in February to start exploring the unique whiskies of the Southwest. Today, we start what’s effectively the second half of our road trip.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been in California for two and a half months, fully half the time since we left New York City. But it’s an incredibly big state, and it has no shortage of either great distilleries or stunning national parks–the main professional and personal focal points of our road trip. We visited half a dozen distilleries in wine country alone, as well as lots of breweries and wineries, and have crisscrossed the state from the redwoods in the north to Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada to Palm Springs and Los Angeles in the south (sorry, San Diego–next time!). And we decamped in L.A. for all of January explicitly so we could keep Lost Lantern moving forward on a strategic level. We can keep the gears turning day-to-day while we’re on the road visiting distilleries and meeting new potential partners, but the work of contracts, fundraising, logo design, and product development is tough to squeeze in for an hour a day between long drives and distillery visits.

From that sense, January has been very successful, and it was also a great way to recharge our batteries after months of constant travel. We both have lots of friends here and met with some great people in the extended world of the booze biz, and–as longtime New Yorkers–swiftly fell back into the rhythms of life in a big city (that said, I really disliked a lot about L.A., from the traffic to the constant blinding sunlight, but we certainly enjoyed the warm temperatures and lack of a polar vortex).

I couldn’t be more excited about the second part of our road trip. We spent the first few months on the West Coast for a reason–both to outrun the cold weather and because all three West Coast states are home to a huge array of craft distilleries, many of them quite established, a lot of them loudly and proudly influenced by Scottish tradition. In fact, there were so many West Coast distilleries that even in four months we were only able to visit a handful of the best and brightest.

The next regions of the country we’ll pass through are different. The whiskies of Arizona and New Mexico, at least the ones that I’ve tried, are extremely distinctive and reflective of where they come from, but there just aren’t as many distilleries there yet. Texas and Colorado are both craft whiskey hotbeds in their own right, and have intense regional pride and unique approaches of their own–not to mention climates that are very different from either Scotland or Kentucky. I’ve never been to Colorado and have barely been to Texas, and can’t wait to visit the distilleries there firsthand.

Beyond that lie the Great Plains, which is where our trip planning will get really interesting. Although all 50 states have distilleries now, some states only have a few,  and not all of those are making whiskey. As we slowly head back east, we’ll sometimes venture into states solely to visit a single distillery. We’ll always do the research to see if there are newer up-and-comers worth a visit, but even if we visit two or three places, our journey will feel very different from the West Coast, where we struggled even to hit all of our must-visits. In some ways, this lower concentration gives us more flexibility. We don’t have to schedule a week in Arkansas or Nebraska; we can pop in for a day or two, visit Rock Town and Cut Spike when it’s convenient for them, pop by an up-and-coming farm distillery, go for a hike in the Ozarks and wherever they have for hiking in Nebraska, and then move on.

Don’t get me wrong–even places that don’t have many distilleries are making great whiskey. The Great Plains are the corn capital of the entire world, so it only makes sense that distilleries there are embracing bourbon. Estate distilleries revive the farming ethos that motivated distilleries way back in the 18th century. But for a wide variety of reasons, ultimately driven by the area’s lower population, the industry just isn’t as densely established yet.

And beyond the Great Plains lie the Midwest, the coastal South, Kentucky and Tennessee, the mid-Atlantic, and of course our own backyard of New York and New England. Even though we’ve been on the road for four months and visited dozens of distilleries, we’re just scratching the surface of American whiskey and the emerging regionality of craft. There are so many more exciting adventures to come.