A short bike ride from Nantucket harbor, amongst the farms and fields sits a small complex of unsuspecting barn like building that houses Cisco Brewers CiscoBrewers.com which is a distillery, a brewery and a winery. Not something you would expect on this island with its early American settlements and hub for whaling of centuries gone by, but in 2012 anything is possible, after all early settlers to this part of the country are said to have drunk more beer than water and always made room on ships for barrels of rum and other libations.
On a recent visit I got to meet some of the fine people who have made these business’s thrive dating as far back as 1981.
Nantucket Vineyards was the 1st of these 3 establishments. When owners Dean and Melissa Long tried to grow grapes on the island, they realized this was not going to happen they decided to source grapes for their wines from Washington, California and New York. Using old world wine making techniques and 21st century technology they are make 10 wines, a port and sangria with traditional varieties and some island favorites such as Blueberry Sangria, Cranberry Pinot Gris and Peach Viognier just to name a few. All wine are very drinkable and are refreshing on a summer’s day. Most retail for under $20. The wines are found throughout Massachusetts in restaurants and retailers and can be shipped out-of-state.
Cisco Brewers began to take shape in about 1992 when Randy and Wendy Hudson returned to the island and started home brewing. Listing 13 beers in various styles it looked like there were more available in the tasting room as they do a couple of ciders and seasonal beers as well. A few beers were tasted on this visit including the Moor Porter which has a full-bodied taste as well as some chocolate and coffee nuances. The cider was crisp and clean and went down really well on this August afternoon. Cisco beers can be found up and down the east coast in 14 states and D.C.
In 1997 Dean and Melissa applied for a spirits license in the hopes of making grappa and fruit brandies, but it wasn’t until 2000 when the license was granted making 888 Distillery a reality. Being named after the 888 well where they get their water they are making several different vodkas plus gin, bourbon and rum. Made in small batches and using natural ingredients and both the cranberry and blueberry vodkas use locally grown fruit. Despite all the spirits being above 68% proof none of those tasted came across as “hot” but well-balanced and flavorful and very obvious aromas. The Hurricane Rum, Nor’ Easter Bourbon and Gale Force Gin were all very pleasant and made my mouth water for more. Several of the vodkas have scored well in the World Spirit Championship including the original that outscored Ketel One and the distillery has garnered national press in both print and on TV.
3 of the more interesting spirits I tasted were the Pineapple Jalapeno liqueur which definitely had the kick one would expect from the spicy jalapeno that seemed dominant. To cool my mouth down I was presented with a taste of Blueberry Mint vodka which had cleansing mint taste with a hint of blueberry. What really caught my eye on the back bar was the jar of horseradish, garlic and peppercorn infused vodka which is in the experimental phase and has a dominant garlic flavor. A very popular choice for their Bloody Marys. The 888 spirits are found in most states on the eastern seaboard and D.C. and some have made their way out west to Colorado.
All 3 producers make very worthwhile libations that are worth not only your business but also a visit to their humble alcohol amusement park. Thanks to Tyler, Pete and Frazier for their hospitality and knowledge. Cisco Brewers are at 5 Bartlett Farm Rd. Nantucket, Ma. 02554 (508)325-5929