Why Not The Big Guys?

Lost Lantern is an independent bottler of American craft whiskey. We’ll be buying unique and interesting casks from craft distilleries all across the country, and curating a selection of unique single barrels as well as blended craft whiskies. Although we’re working with distilleries of many different sizes and styles, there’s one group of distilleries we’re not looking at: We won’t be buying any barrels from the big, traditional distilleries in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana.

Don’t think that means we don’t like those whiskies. In fact, we like them very much. At Whisky Advocate, I was part of the blind-tasting panel that chose Heaven Hill’s Elijah Craig Barrel Proof—a $60 bourbon!—as the 2017 Whisky of the Year. I love just about anything from Wild Turkey, the peanutty flavors of mature Beam, and the sheer nuance of Four Roses. If you looked at my whiskey cabinet, you’d think Eagle Rare should be called Eagle Common. Every big distillery in those three states makes compelling products that I’d be happy to drink.
Still, we aren’t going to source from them. There are several reasons for that:

We are committed, as much as possible, to full transparency in our whiskies. While some of the big Kentucky distilleries will happily sell off excess barrels, they very rarely, if ever, let the bottler state precisely where the whiskey came from. And, of course, some bad actors sourced whiskey and suggested they were making it themselves. We are a bona fide independent bottler and don’t want anyone to think we made the whiskey we sell.
Many people have sourced from the big distillers over the years. Barely anyone has done so from the craft distillers, and even fewer have done so with any transparency (kudos to those who did, though). These newer players are producing amazing stuff too and deserve their turn in the spotlight. That’s why we will put a distillery’s name on the label whenever we can. Not the back label, in small print. The front label, in big letters, where you can’t miss it.

Here’s the best reason of all: other blenders are already releasing wonderful whiskies sourced from the big guys, and being relatively or totally transparent about it. In 2018, I particularly enjoyed some unbelievably good cask strength MGP whiskies from Belle Meade (Nelson’s Green Brier). One of those batches actually made the Whisky Advocate Top 20 in 2018. Smooth Ambler and Barrell Bourbon have also had some amazing releases, and High West has perfected the art of blending big-guy whiskey, now with their own stuff as well. I’d rather keep drinking their stuff than try to reinvent the wheel by doing it ourselves.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we won’t look into buying casks from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana—but from the craft distillers there, not the big guys. After all, those three states have some of the best craft whiskey in the country… but more on that another time.