Living in Brooklyn, New York, Nora commuted by company bus to Bridgewater Capital in Connecticut, where she did quantitative modeling. She loved Old World wines and on the bus rides to and from work, found herself reading wine textbooks.
After immersing herself as much as she could academically, she knew that the only way for her to really learn the industry, and get access to the best wines, would be to work in the industry. Nora applied for and got a job in Sales at Astor Wines and Spirits in New York City, a place well-known for its vast inventory and knowledgeable staff.
She started to build her foundational knowledge beyond wine to include spirits, but as a Sales Consultant she could still rely on management staff for help when faced with questions she could not answer.
When Nora got promoted to Sales Manager, her learning curve went from 0 to 60 and that’s when her whiskey journey really began. She continued to taste as many expressions as she could and credits their Spirits Buyer, Nima (Ansari) with helping her to build her knowledge. She met her then-boyfriend (now husband), Adam, who was a Senior Whisky Specialist at Whisky Advocate and they often spent their time together talking shop.
One thing that kept resurfacing in their chats was independent bottlings; at the time it was a common practice in Scotch whisky but nearly unheard of in American whiskey. At this point, Nora had yet to decide if she wanted to start her own company, but did know that she wanted entrepreneurial experience.
For the next few years, Nora worked at startups, basically “learning how to build from the ground level up.” She also accompanied Adam to events when possible, and continued to have conversations with him about independent bottlings. They both wished there was someone focused on independently bottling select barrels from underrated distilleries here in the United States.
After all that talk of “someone should really do it”, Nora decided to BE that someone. She sat down with Adam to sketch out the business model and then vetted their business idea with a lawyer.
The Great American Whiskey Road Trip
Meanwhile, as they refined their business model, they went out to talk to people and get feedback on their business idea. Feasibility on paper is one thing, but how would the market react? Now that they knew it was legally possible and made certain that they had the money to do it. The key factor would now be sourcing. In other words, would the distilleries sell them the whiskey to bottle?
They quit their jobs, put their stuff in storage, bought a Prius, and kicked off what they thought would be a six-month trip around America, armed with a long wish list of distilleries. While generally welcomed by the American single malt producers, the bourbon and rye producers took a little bit more convincing. Nora admitted that their established credibility in the industry helped. They also made sure to have extra time for local distilleries that were not on their radar.
Many distilleries aren’t always able to distribute throughout their own state. In New York State, several distilleries don’t ship products to New York City. Six months turned into eight months and then they were done being on the road. “The amount we spent on hotels was less than rent in New York City.”
Once they had whiskey commitments, they pivoted back to marketing. Their LLC had been established before the road trip, then they worked with a branding agency to come up with the logo and label designs. Nora credits Adam with their name, Lost Lantern. She loves that their evocative logo highlights their commitment to helping people find whiskies, by shining a light on the independent spirit.
Whiskey Nerds Unite!
While they had chosen to launch with underrated but innovative regional distilleries, Nora admits that their first audience focus was whiskey nerds. What makes a whiskey nerd? Someone who enjoys poring over articles, blogs, podcasts and enjoys taking in as much whiskey knowledge as possible. Someone who likes to try new things and get access to innovative whiskies, not readily available. She hopes that these whiskey enthusiasts will help build the buzz about her business. Also, to provide education around an American independent bottler, to help their family and friends discover and be excited about their new expressions.
They had planned to launch in April 2020, but ended up delaying to October. This helped establish partnerships with Seelbach’s in DC and Speakeasy in California, allowing them to ship out to forty states. While they continue to focus on public relations and outreach, most of their market has been built through word of mouth, especially through their partnerships with the distilleries. Recently, they started working with Park Street Hospitality, to grow their distribution network. Nora stressed the importance of how the outreach brings value to this partnership, by building and showing the demand for their product.
While also reaching out to whiskey clubs and bars in California and New York, they remained mindful of their limited inventory. From an operational standpoint, only a certain level of niche bars can create and sell cocktails at a price point that can cover the higher cost of stocking their whiskey.
As their team grows beyond just Nora and Adam, they continue to try to make their experience feel very intimate and personal for the people buying and drinking their whiskey. Whether it’s from an online purchase or at an event, they are proud to be the first full-fledged American independent bottler, offering full transparency in the Scottish tradition.
Why Lost Lantern Whiskey?
For whiskey lovers that might ask: why buy a bottle from an independent bottler vs. just going directly to the distillery themselves, Nora stated the answer is two-fold.
First, there are the distillers that just distribute regionally. Lost Lantern can introduce their whiskey to people that might not be able to get their hands on it locally. Secondly, for brands like Balcones, Westland or Westward, that do distribute nationwide, they can provide a new perspective of a distillery. This is done by choosing unique casks that have been set aside, casks that don’t fit the typical flavor profile of a specific distillery. Additionally, Lost Lantern always bottles these unique single casks at cask strength, which is often the proof preference of most whiskey nerds.
Their whiskeys fall into three categories:
Blends: Their newest and what they hope will be their flagship category of blends from multiple American distilleries.
Their first product in this series is the Lost Lantern American Vatted Malt Edition No. 1,
a 12-barrel blend of single malt whiskies from these six distilleries
Balcones (Waco, Texas)
Copperworks (Seattle, Washington
Santa Fe Spirits (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
Triple Eight Distillery (Nantucket, Massachusetts)
Westward Whiskey (Portland, Oregon)
Virginia Distillery Company (Lovingston, Virginia)
Aged at a minimum of 2 years, 105 proof, non-chill filtered, no color added with a limited production of 3,000 bottles. For full mashbill and barrel details, visit the product page.
Single Distillery: A blend of whiskeys from one distillery. Distilleries include Balcones and Whiskey Del Bac.
Distilleries include Westland, Corbin Cash, Cedar Ridge, Westward, Spirit Works, McCarthy’s, Starlight, and Dad’s Hat.
As this article goes to print, they’re excited to announce that their first multi-distillery blend of bourbon whiskies will be bottled for a July 2023 release.
It was a pleasure to chat with Nora and we’ll make certain to check in with Lost Lantern next year, to see what other expressions they’ll be offering. To learn more about Lost Lantern and read about their “Great Whiskey Road Trip”, visit their site here!
Join us next month when we chat with Kerry Breen of Independent Spirits Distillery!