Lost Lantern 2021 Single Cask #5 – St. George Spirits California Single Malt Whiskey

St. George Spirits Single Malt

MASH BILL – 100% malted barley

PROOF – 107.3

AGE – 3 years

DISTILLERY – St. George Spirits via Lost Lantern Whiskey

PRICE – $176 (includes shipping)

WORTH BUYING? – Yes. But only once, because $$$

I’m very excited about this one. Having enjoyed the St. George Baller Single Malt and a handful of their annual limited edition Single Malt Whiskey releases (2017, 2020 and 2021), when I learned about this single barrel bottled at cask strength by Lost Lantern Whiskey, I couldn’t resist. St. George had never before released a single barrel of their whiskeys, which are typically combined into those meticulous annual blends.

But in October 2021, a member of my local whiskey Facebook group who works for St. George gave us the heads up that Lost Lantern would be releasing this rarity. The barrel yielded roughly 250 bottles, and they’d be going on sale the following week at a specified time. I’m not so much into keyboard whiskey hunting’s mad dashes anymore. But for St. George I was willing to leap back into the e-fray. When the time came I managed to be among those who tapped away at their keyboard fast enough to secure a bottle.

Lost Lantern Whiskey was founded in 2018 by Nora Ganley-Roper and Adam Polonski, self-described “whiskey nerds” who wanted to establish an American independent bottling operation somewhat in the tradition of Scotland’s Hunter Laing & Co. or Alexander Murray, only focused more on craft and other lesser known American distilleries. In their own words:

We love hunting down whiskies that people haven’t discovered yet and evangelizing the distilleries we are most excited about. We love to tell a good story, and we care deeply about flavor. Ultimately, we just want to share what makes the world of American whiskey so exciting.

Unlike their Scottish counterparts, Lost Lantern doesn’t sell the barrels they procure at cheaper prices than the distilleries would do. From Hunter Laing I’ve picked up the likes of 10-year cask strength Caol Ila and 17-year cask strength Highland Park for exceptionally affordable prices compared to similar distillery-direct releases. Lost Lantern sells their finds, typically aged only some handful of years, at prices near or higher—sometimes much higher—than those of the makers themselves.

So this St. George release came with quite a sticker shock. I gulped when I saw it. But I was bloodhounding that day of the hunt, not Venus Fly Trapping, so I pressed on with the chase across my keyboard.

Their prices aside for the moment, I do appreciate Lost Lantern’s level of transparency. Their website offers a good amount of information any whiskey fan would want about a given bottle. Brief narratives about the bottles and their distilleries are provided alongside the usual stats—entry and bottling proof, barrel type, aging info—as well as suggestions for what kind of glass to drink it in and whether Lost Lantern believes the whiskey is best neat or on the rocks. The page on this St. George Spirits release is no exception.

Typically I write up notes after a bottle has been open at least a week, often longer. This allows the history in the bottle to mingle with some fresh air from the present, to catch its breath after slumbering in glass however long. But this time I thought I might share notes from the bottle’s first inhale, the uncorking, to capture that initial impression of a bottle I was so eager to try.

Then I thought better of it. Recalling the difference in experience between drinking and tasting, and considering again my particular excitement for this bottle, I opted to drink it first instead, to enjoy it (I hoped!) without analysis. Just the pure pleasure of the whiskey.

And woah, right out of the gate, this was a refreshingly unusual pour. I could immediately relate it to its annual blended cousin, the St. George Single Malt. The signature quince note was there (what I identify as quince, anyway), and the creaminess outlined with citrus peel. But I also found bacon, fresh long-stemmed grasses and flowers growing near mountain stream water, and a funky earthy note. It was salty and syrupy, with a nice warmth to it and a light tingly prickle. The finish led with mango and the quince, and left a deep and lasting warmth…

Not a bad way to start at all. It was such a complex and refreshing experience. I’m glad I had that experience drinking, and not yet formally tasting. Not that formal tastings aren’t enjoyable. They’re just different, slightly removed from the far more common experience of drinking alongside other things like conversation with friends or sunsets or movies.

So here we are now, one week after uncorking and three pours into the bottle. Tasted in a traditional Glencairn, these brief notes were taken after letting the whiskey rest in the glass for about 15 minutes.

COLOR – a clear and pale lemon yellow, refracting in every direction yellow can

NOSE – that bright, citric, lemon-zesty quince note right up front, fresh mountain pine on a bustling breeze, long-stemmed thistles and grasses, granite and sandy earth

TASTE – bright and lightly biting, the citrus and acidic quince, cream, light caramel, white pepper, wild thistles, fresh mountain water in clean Spring air

FINISH – cream, caramel, tangy homemade yogurt, tangerine and lemon zest, a nice round warmth

OVERALL – bottled Spring time in the mountains

This is as enjoyable and unusual now under scrutiny as it was when I was on my back porch enjoying it beneath another clear blue Spring sky. It’s quite unique in the wide world of whiskey. Only other St. George Spirits whiskeys compare. And luckily I still have some of the delectable 2021 Single Malt on the shelf, so I can compare!

Nosing them side by side, the single barrel leaps out like the Spring breeze I keep likening it to, whereas the 2021 blend is less exuberantly forthcoming. They share the citric and quince notes. The 2021 blend also offers deeper, darker caramel and cream aromas. Side by side, the single barrel’s pine aspects become more apparent while the 2021 blend offers a nice grapefruit peel note instead.

Tasting the 2021 blend, there is a sparkly quality to the texture, like gold sunlight shimmering on the restless surface of a small mountain lake. Bright as well, this blend is nevertheless richer by comparison, grounded more in its stronger caramels and creams. The higher proof on the single barrel pushes its lighter flavors forward with a bit more oomph, bringing that whiskey into balance with the 2021 blend’s more relaxed depth.

I’ve mentioned quince a lot. This is a note I picked up on my first St. George Single Malt experience, and it has remained the brand’s through-line for me. But I’ve come to wonder if I’ve been tasting what I think I’m tasting. Without any actual quince fruit available for me to cook down and turn into something edible to offer an aroma and taste test, I opted instead for a Quince Cordial from Kozuba & Sons Distillery.

The cordial has other ingredients as well, of course. Most commonly a lemony yellow, quince fruit can also yield rich carrot and baked-peach oranges. This Kozuba & Sons cordial is a gorgeous russet cherry red. Made with traditional Polish methods and entirely natural ingredients, I figured it would make a decent comparison toward my hunt for this unique St. George aroma and flavor that I’ve deemed “quince.”

Nosing all three spirits side by side, they share that citric edge and a certain dryness. Next to the cordial, the single barrel whiskey shows more caramel and cream than before. Also shared between them all is a bundle of dry herbaceous notes, like a carefully dried bouquet of hay, straw, wild grasses and wildflowers. The cordial has a berry note that the whiskeys do not, something like a cherry-prune hybrid, whereas the whiskeys stick to the lemons, grapefruit and tangerines for their fruit.

On the taste, the cordial offers a tart, syrupy rendition of its nose, pushing the cherry-prune note center and allowing the drier herbal and citric notes to surround it. Despite being only 65 proof, the cordial leaves a warmer finish than either whiskey. Tasted after the cordial, the 2021 blend pops with a beautiful balance of dry herbal notes and sweet dark caramel. Another sip of the cordial to set up the single barrel whiskey, and on the latter I now get even drier, almost twiggy herbaceous notes. All three share the tart, bright flavor elements I’ve identified as quince. With the Quince Cordial providing reference, I can now discern it’s that dry citric aspect in combination with the tart fleshy-fruity note. All together it’s reminiscent of some light, hazy, hoppy, fruity beer.

Very interesting.

All in all, I feel like I’m on top of a mountain in some arid climate, in Spring when the wildflowers are in bloom and waving in the breezes and winds created by Spring’s shifting temperatures. There are pine trees nearby adding their influence. The sandy soil is made of generations of granite worn down by endless Winters and Summers alternating their snow and sun.

I’ve noted in other posts on St. George products, theirs is a flavor profile I can understand some people not going for. It is very particular. We’re far away from either Kentucky or Scotland here. I might say the brightness at work is akin to some Irish whiskeys, but even that’s a stretch, and ultimately misleading. These are nothing like a Redbreast or Blue Spot, for example.

In any case, when I want to feel bright and fresh like the Spring sun and air, I’ll be reaching for this Lost Lantern offering from St. George. Given the price, though, when it’s done that will be that. It’s not so unique next to St. George’s own bottlings to warrant the higher cost. And, luckily for me, St. George is in Alameda just across the bay from San Francisco, so it’s not hard for me to find their products. If you live elsewhere, you’re most likely to come across their Baller Single Malt. If anything I’ve described here intrigues you, seek it out. It won’t be this, exactly. But it will be in the family. And it’s a fun family.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s