I would like to lovingly subtitle this post, "What's Brewing (and distilling) on Nantucket". Yes, I know it's incredibly corny but this is my page gosh darn it and I'm going to have my fun. That being said, I would love to tell you all about the great afternoon I spent at the 888 Distillery and Cisco Brewery while I was on the island. As a side note, there is also a vineyard producing local wines... my advice is to focus your time on the areas they do incredibly well and save your vineyard visits for your next trip to Napa. The east coast is not renown for it's grape growing and wine making techniques for a reason and my vote is to just let that be.
Tip #1: Pack a lunch, bring some take out with you, do whatever you have to do to make sure that you have food available to you because there isn't really any available there (with the exception of a rack of Lays potato chips) and if you're going to make an afternoon out of this, you're going to want something to eat, promise.
Tip #2: If you didn't bring a bike to the island with you, rent one and ride it out there. It's less than a 3 mile ride from the town center and it's a really scenic ride.
Tip #3: Start your day on the distillery side. Remember that adage from college... liquor before beer you're in the clear? Your stomach will thank you later for this one.
So following my own advice, I packed up my muffin from the basket of fresh baked goods at the inn we stayed at (in hindsight, my muffin proved to not quite have the sustenance I was hoping for), hoped on my bike and peddled my way out to the middle of Nantucket. I started my afternoon at the 888 Distillery. I'm familiar with some of the 888 family of products from my time at Not Your Average Joe's and what I have tried has actually been pretty solid. Their line of vodkas is readily available off the island and if you're a fan of vanilla or blueberries, those are the two flavors I would recommend starting with.
The vanilla flavored vodka is an infusion of Madagascar and New Guinea vanilla beans that are put directly in the bottle (on a side note, once you finish the bottle, save the pickled vanilla beans to scrape for the best panna cotta recipe ever). When you make a cocktail with the vodka, you'll see little black flecks floating in it. These are not dirt, they're oils extracted from the vanilla bean and they're loaded with flavor. In my humble opinion, it's the best vanilla vodka available on the market.
The blueberry flavored vodka is a fantastic shade of deep purpleish blue thanks the the spirit being macerated with Maine blueberries. Nothing artificial, no chemical flavorings, just legitimate fruit which gives the vodka the most intense blueberry color and flavor imaginable.
Despite being such a big fan of their vodkas prior to my visit, I wanted to take full advantage of my trip to the source and try something I wouldn't have the opportunity to on the mainland. As it turns out, 888 has a line of naturally infused liquors that are small batch production and an island exclusive release. My $10 tasting (which also included a souvenir shot glass) was a line up of Blueberry Mint, Honey Ginger, Pineapple Jalapeno, and Oxacan Coffee.
The blueberry mint was the same shade as the vodka and being a lower proof, significantly more refreshing and less agressive. Their signature cocktail, the Figawi Wowie, was a blend of blueberry mint liqueur, lemonade and soda water. This may be the perfect summer beach drink because I could have downed 10 of them without even thinking about it. The honey ginger flavor was okay but it was significantly more mild than I would have expected. It could work well mixed with a strongly brewed tea. The pineapple jalapeno was really interesting, you could clearly taste the pineapple but there was such a strong heat from the hot peppers that the contrast was pretty intense. I'm glad I tasted this after the honey ginger because the subtlety would have been beyond overshadowed. Finally, I tried with Oxacan coffee which I can envision making the most amazing espresso martini. This stuff put Kahlua to shame because rather than tasting like sweetened coffee syrup, it tasted like... gasp, real coffee. Sadly, they were sold out of retail bottles so I couldn't take any home with me. Although, I did pick up a bottle of the blueberry mint.
Across the courtyard from the distillery, is the Cisco Brewery tasting room, otherwise known as the endless flow of beer for a $10 tasting fee. The best advice I can give you here is make sure you're visiting at the most non-peak time possible. The fewer people there, the more you can learn about the beer which, in my opinion, makes the tasting so much more interesting.
Cisco produces their Sankaty Light, Whale's Tale and Grey Lady beers for off-island distribution, all of which are solid, but the highlights of the tasting definitely came from the small batch, island exclusives. Some of my personal favorites from the tasting were the Bailey's Ale, the Captain Swain Stout and the Pechish Woods.
Bailey's Ale was a hoppy, malty, well-balanced ale with strong citrus zest undertones that managed to add to the beer without making it too fruity. Completely drinkable, but still full of character and great for summer. The Captain Swain Stout was the first beer to be produced at the brewery and is still going strong today. It's a dark, chocolate malty beer that is loaded with flavor. I'm a huge fan of Irish stouts and this completely held up to the high expectations I had going into it. Normally, fruit based beers aren't my thing but the Pechish Woods had such a tart, sour undertone that the peaches acted more like a balancing agent than a fruity punch. Overall, some really interesting beers and I look forward to seeing what they have on tap next time I'm on the island.
Check back for my third installment of Hidden Gems of the Grey Lady and learn about one of the best bakeries I've found yet in my search for the perfect commercially baked cupcake.