|Since Massachusetts’ infamous Blue Laws were enacted in the late 1600’s, the state’s liquor laws have been considered some of the most stringent in the country. Despite this fact, and born out of a passion for producing quality beverages, in 1997 Nantucket Vineyard and Cisco Brewers collaborated to found Triple Eight Distillery on Nantucket Island.
The Triple Eight story began in 1981 when Dean and Melissa Long founded the Nantucket Vineyard. While Dean and Melissa tried for many years to grow grapes on the island, Mother Nature refused to cooperate. They now import their grapes from the finest growers in California, Washington state and New York. This has allowed the vintner a chance to focus on the fermentation and production side of wine making, which has resulted in some of the regions best wine. Production continues to increase to meet the influx of summer tourists and new wines are constantly being introduced.
Cisco Brewers was founded by Randy and Wendy Hudson. Wendy started home brewing with some friends while living in California, but in 1992 she returned to the island and met Randy. Instantly, she not only knew that Randy was her soul mate, but that he would make a great brewer. And so she bought him a kit.
Randy tried one recipe using malt extract, then ditched the book and converted a little pasta roller machine (they never used it anyway, who does?) into a grain mill. All the time he had spent working at Something Natural, a bakery on Nantucket, had given him an intuitive feel for working with yeast and grain. He was right in his element as they say. If Wendy needed to be further impressed to stick with this guy, after trying his beer, she was!
Randy and Wendy had the good fortune to meet up with Dean and Melissa. The Long’s needed helpers and Randy and Wendy needed a place to live, so they moved into the loft over the winery in May of 1992. Making wine turned out to be very interesting work and they sure didn’t mind living above thousands of gallons of the finished product!
When Randy and Wendy started selling beer, the entire operation-except the cold room, which was cooled by an air conditioner-was outdoors in the Lon’s back yard. Wendy always called the original setup a “nano-brewery” because althought they dreamed about it, they certainly were not yet a “micro.” Many people thought it looked like they were making moonshine and they were right! Cisco Brewers had the distinction of being America’s Only Outdoor Brewery.
Randy became quite proficient in predicting the weather on Nantucket. Whenever he was scheduled to brew, some bizarre weather pattern developed. In addition, everything was done in the most labor-intensive fashion imaginable (actually, in that respect, little has changed…capping bottles for hours on end is still murder on the elbows).
Which brings us to Jay Harman. Randy and Wendy met Jay during his senior year while working on his senior year business thesis at Fairfield University (CT). Jay joined Cisco Brewers after graduating in 1996. He had been looking to open a brewery on Nantucket until he learned that we were already doing it. Thank goodness he joined forces with Cisco. Based on how hard he works running our operation, he sure would have made a tough competitor. Not to mention, he single-handedly capped 60,000 bottles in his first year alone.
Plans for expansion were ongoing. The Brew Shack, as Randy and Wendy affectionately called it, was clearly limited and Dean knew more space was needed for equipment and storage. The new building was scheduled to be ready for brewing in May of 1996. By island standards, construction was punctual, meaning we finally moved in on Labor Day Weekend. It housed both the brewery and winery and Wendy liked it because the new building was called the Mortan Building and Mortan was her maiden name. Perhaps the most impressive part of the move was transporting the big boiler from the back yard, using techniques perfected by Egyptian slaves in the building of the pyramids.
As a result of the construction, there was no beer to sell from July 4th until sometime in August. Something good did come of the experience though, and that was the creation of our motto: nice beer, if you can get it.
During the rapid growth stage of the brewery, Dean managed to have the foresight to see a connection between the alcohol amusement park they were building and micro-distillation. In hopes of producing some grappa and fruit brandies, Dean applied for a license to manufacture high proofed spirits in 1997. But after some experimentation,
Dean, Randy and Jay saw a unique synergy between Cisco Brewers making beer and Triple Eight Distillery making whiskey. After all, whiskey is beer that has been distilled. In the fall of 2000, after jumping through a myriad of hoops, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts gave Triple Eight Distillery a license to produce high proofed spirits. After burning down one greenhouse and spending countless hours piecing together a new still, Triple Eight Distillery began making Notch whiskey (as in “not scotch” single malt whiskey).
Yet because of whiskey’s long aging process (a minimum of five years “in the wood”), the fledgling distillers decided to also try their hand at making vodka. Why vodka, you ask? The question really is,
“If you could make vodka on Nantucket, wouldn’t you?”
To raise the necessary capital, they invited the public to purchase futures on each barrel of Notch (an option still open to the public today). As a result, Triple Eight Vodka was the first product to flow into bottles from our tiny production facility. It is made from organically grown corn, triple distilled and blended with ultra pure sand-filtered island water from well #888.
The purity of spirit and gentle filtration contribute greatly to this flavorful vodka’s silky palate and smooth finish. That lasting impression of extreme drinkability is the characteristic most commonly noted by the newly initiated Triple Eight Vodka drinker.
Being a tiny distillery, we decided that the best way to gain a wide distribution commensurate with our quality products was to hit the streets ourselves. Which brings us to Matt Lambo. In the fall of 2001, Matt started self-distributing in the greater Boston area in our 1975 8-Ball-bedecked VW camper van. It isn’t the image you might associate with a super-premium vodka brand, but it works well for us and we love it.
Matt has opened over 200 accounts to date and is also responsible for public relations, promotions and events as Brand Manager for Triple Eight Vodka. Give him a friendly honk if you love our vodka and other premium liquors. He is often seen driving the Triple Eight VW at Fenway Park and throughout the city of Boston.
Our products are currently distributed in 12 states and growing quickly. We have recently been the beneficiary of much national media exposure (The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Associated Press, Boston Magazine, Agenda Magazine, Elle Magazine and much more).
Yet perhaps our strongest marketing force is the island of Nantucket itself and its 200,000 visitors each year. Cisco Brewers, Nantucket Vineyard and Triple Eight Distillery are located at 5 and 7 Bartlett Farm Road. We’re open year-round and look forward to meeting you the next time you’re on Nantucket Island. In the meantime, we encourage you to join our growing mailing list and check our site often for updates.
We’re young (at heart, anyway), love what we produce, and have a great time doing it.
And that’s our story in a nutshell…to be continued…