Lost Lantern ‘sheds light’ on lesser-known producers

by Ted Simmons

Independent bottler Lost Lantern, which spotlights craft distillers across the US, has released its Fall 2023 Single Cask collection.

Adam Polonski and Nora Ganley-Roper were already spirits professionals when they launched Lost Lantern – he was a whiskey journalist, and she was a sales manager at a major spirits retailer. They knew then that American craft whiskey was growing larger by the day, and that for the US consumer, it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with the many local producers who lacked broader distribution or marketing.  In 2018 and 2019 they toured the country visiting hundreds of distilleries, capturing the very best of what they tasted, and bringing independent bottling, a common practice in Scotland, to a US audience. Several years and releases later, they were crowned the 2023 Independent Bottler of the Year at the global Icons of Whisky Awards in London.  For their latest collection of single casks, released this week, they are revisiting some of their customers’ top-requested distilleries, including four returning favourites, and one new partner. For Polonski and Ganley-Roper, it is a moment to reflect on their journey thus far, and confirmation that there was a market for this type of curation all along. “It's both very validating and very exciting, but also really tells us that there was a true need for what we're doing, that having someone out there to parse through the country's thousands of distilleries and highlight the brightest lights that are out there is something that people really wanted,” Polonski said. “We take a lot of pride in the trust that people put in us and also do our best to live up to that, to continue to find cool and exciting things that will keep people really excited about what we're doing.” The Fall 2023 Single Cask collection includes: Lost Lantern Balcones Distilling Texas Single Malt Finished in Peated Whiskey Casks (241 bottles, 60.2% ABV, US$100); Lost Lantern Smooth Amber West Virginia Straight Bourbon (87 bottles, 60.7% ABV, US$100)' Lost Lantern New Riff Kentucky Straight Bourbon (196 bottles, 58.1% ABV, US$90); Lost Lantern Corbin Cash California Straight Rye 7-years-old (146 bottles, 64.9% ABV, US$120); and Lost Lantern Andalusia Whiskey Co. Triple Distilled Texas Single Malt (177 bottles, 52.6% ABV, US$100). Whiskies with perspective Ganley-Roper said that when they are selecting single casks, they are looking for great-tasting whiskey, as well as something that is different enough from a distillery’s core offering, or a different take on a popular style. “We're looking for things that have perspective – either highlighting a unique way of interacting with grain, an interesting way of smoking, or a version of Bourbon that tastes like that place,” she said. “We want something that says something about the geography, the people making it, or the process that they use to make the whiskey.” While the single casks are limited by nature, and typically the fastest products to sell out, Lost Lantern has also released single and multi-distillery blends in the past. “Growing our volume over time is definitely a priority for us,” Ganley-Roper said.  Other goals include working with larger distillers, provided they can continue to tell lesser-known stories through their bottlings, and exploring other spirits, including Scotch, though they note that would be later down the line. There are also plans to open a tasting room in Vermont, where the company is headquartered. However, a focus on craft distilling remains central to the Lost Lantern ethos. There are a few distilleries that they’ve yet to work with, such as Chattanooga and Woodinville, but would like to, and pockets of the US that they will continue to visit. Ganley-Roper points to Texas, and Lost Lantern has now worked with four distilleries in the state, while Polonski says the midwest corn belt, where a majority of distilling grains are grown, remains an area of interest.  In the years since joining the small cohort of independent bottlers, they have each learned a lot. Ganley-Roper has learned to drive a forklift, for one, but more than anything, they see a continued need to shed light on lesser-known producers, and carry the torch for American craft whiskey. “American whiskey from all over the country is just going to continue to grow,” Polonski said. “It's with us to stay, it's not a flash in the pan. It's becoming more and more like craft beer where every place will have its own distillery and many will be very regional, but they'll be making wonderful whiskey.”