Wine geeks love to talk about terroir. Simply described, the term sums up the impact of the sense of place on a particular wine—soil, climate, weather, and all the other factors that distinguish it as an essentially agricultural product.
But does whiskey have terroir? Before the era of large-scale production, it certainly did. Even now, you can visit distilleries in many regions of Scotland that produce remarkably different products; when asked what makes his whisky unique, the distiller is apt to credit the water source. And even the largest of the mega-distilleries have a distinct house style: a confirmed bourbon drinker could easily identify Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam and Woodford Reserve in a blind tasting.
The rise of the craft distilling movement finally endowed spirits with a sense of connoisseurship and put them on a quality level with wine. The problem with the best craft spirits, just as with the top small-production wines, is that they’re very hard to find. The alcohol distribution system is built on volume, and the top craft spirits tend to be consumed locally. You can order them online, but that presupposes you’ve actually heard of them.
Lost Lantern (lostlanternwhiskey.com) is a new project designed to shine a spotlight on some of America’s best small distillers. It was conceived by Adam Polonski, former Senior Specialist at Whisky Advocate, and Nora Ganley-Roper, who worked as a Sales Manager at Astor Wine & Spirits. The pair spent a year travelling around the country, visiting craft distillers in dozens of states, and their initial offering is now available.
Their startup portfolio consists of four single-cask expressions and one blend. The four single casks are Santa Fe Spirits New Mexico Single Malt ($100), a mesquite-smoked whiskey; New York Distilling Co. Straight Rye Whiskey ($70), finished in an apple brandy cask; Ironroot Republic Texas Straight Corn Whiskey ($108), and Cedar Ridge Iowa Straight Bourbon Whiskey ($87). Tiny quantities are available of each.
The blend, American Vatted Malt Edition No. 1 ($120), is one of the first combinations of single malts ever made in the U.S. It includes whiskey from six distilleries: Balcones (Waco, TX), Copperworks (Seattle, WA), Santa Fe Spirits (NM), Triple Eight (Nantucket, MA), Westward (Portland, OR) and Virginia Distillery Co. (Lovingston, VA). The spirits were bottled at 105 proof and two years old, and there are 3,000 for sale.
American Vatted Malt Edition No. 1 has a deep tan color and an expressive nose yielding whiffs of molasses, baking spices and white pepper, along with a slight saline aroma. In the mouth, a rich texture is balanced by a rush of spice that continues through the mid palate and onto the finish. The whiskey seems carefully blended to reveal the best of all possible worlds: a hypothetical cross between the astringency of single malt Scotch and the opulence of Bourbon. While it would lend itself to some interesting cocktails, it would also shine in a snifter as the cooler weather approaches.
Mark Spivak specializes in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He is the author of several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture, as well as three novels. His latest thriller, Impeachment, is now available on Amazon.