If there’s ever going to be a review that shows how far the American whiskey world has come in a few short years, this is it. Today, I’ll be reviewing an American single malt expression from a US-based independent bottler (IB) of American whiskies. Please allow me to repeat these words again for those in the back.
AN AMERICAN SINGLE MALT FROM A US-BASED INDEPENDENT BOTTLER
Before I continue, I know that my friends at Single Cask Nation are US-based independent bottlers, but they focus primarily on malts from Scotland and other global whisky producers.
This concept of an American IB sourcing only American whiskey was completely unfathomable just five years ago. Today, though, we stand at the precipice of a monumental shift in the way the sourced American whiskey world operates. Lost Lantern has finally found a way to model the extremely successful independent bottler system that has worked so well in the UK for decades. Most sourced whiskey in the US is rarely something a distillery or NDP wants to draw too much attention to. In the early 2010s, sourced whiskey was only looked at through a negative lens. There’s a lot more transparency and acceptance these days, but seeing the phrase “Distilled in Indiana” in small print on a label quickly gives whiskey drinkers a preconceived notion about the liquid inside the bottle. It’s the same story with the phrase “Distilled in Tennessee.” Even today, the source of the whiskey is still treated like a dirty little secret.
That’s not how it works in the IB scene in Scotland. Because every barrel is unique, distilleries know that some of their stocks won’t fit the profile they’re looking for in their Original Bottlings (i.e., products that are officially bottled by the brand). These off-profile barrels find a new home with independent bottlers and most distilleries are more than happy to let the IB disclose which distillery the whisky came from. Even distilleries that don’t allow the use of the official brand name will choose an “IB” trade name instead. For example, you won’t see independently bottled Balvenie, but there’s plenty of “Burnside” out there on the IB circuit.
To have an IB focused solely on American whiskey is something new and long overdue. Because there are so…many…distilleries in the United States making whiskey, a place making amazing products at a small distillery in Ohio or Montana may never have the marketing budget or distribution network to spread their brand outside of their local market. An independent bottler changes things significantly. By releasing products with the source distillery name prominently featured on the label, those small distilleries get the opportunity to reach a national audience while the IB handles the hard part of marketing, selling, and distributing the whiskey themselves.
Lost Lantern recently launched the “Single Distillery Series” which focuses on micro-blends of barrels from a single distillery. One of the bottlings in the inaugural Single Distillery Series outrun is from Balcones in Texas and is aptly named “Gentle Giant”. Balcones isn’t typically known for light or delicate whiskies but this release showcases the unseen softer side of the distillery. By using barrels that didn’t fit the standard profile, Lost Lantern was able to feature Balcones in a whole new light. Gentle Giant has a three year age statement and was made with 100% Golden Promise barley. The whiskey was aged in a combination of ex-bourbon casks, European oak, and ex-apple brandy casks. All the casks were at least 53 gallons so there were no shortcuts taken with regard to barrel size. Gentle Giant is bottled at 57.6% ABV.
|Grain-forward, fresh green apple, malty, caramel, fresh-cut hay, chardonnay, a slight minerality, candied ginger, lump charcoal, fennel. With water, this whiskey is less grainy and a lot sweeter with a more forward sugary note and just a bit of tart citrus.
|Apple jelly, spicy oak, poached pears, dried apricot, a bit of honey, star anise, nutmeg, hint of orange peel. Much drier with water, some pepper, apple cider.
|More white wine, ginger, a bit of earthiness, caramel returns, cooked apples, vanilla, dry oak. A hint of dark chocolate and some smoke are the last notes to finally trail off. With water, the apple brandy casks take full control of the finish by pushing the rest of the flavors to the background. It’s a significant shift but a pleasant one.
|If you’re into apple notes in your whiskey like I am, this is a really fun pour. It shows the youthful zest of a three year old whiskey but doesn’t feel like it’s underaged. The Texas heat very likely plays a factor here, but this whiskey just feels like it’s “done”. I enjoy the whisper of smoke that lurks in the shadows of this whiskey but Gentle Giant drinks like [Lost Lantern founders] Adam and Nora had a specific vision in mind and brought that vision to life. How ‘bout them apples?