October, the month of turning leaves, ghosts and goblins, and…
All across the country people are enjoying “cold ones” and toasting the fall at local Oktoberfest Celebrations. Well, we know of a magical spot on Nantucket that turns golden with pumpkin ale this time of year. A place where cups of beer and spirits are frequently seen raised in the air to good times; where live music washes over the people who are enjoying good food and laughter. And all of this wonderfulness happens under the open skies. But, what truly makes this place so magical is that it is run by a tribe full of people who love what they do.
If you’ve pulled up a stool to any bar that has premium beers flowing on tap, then you might know the place already. We’re talking about Cisco Brewery, and there really isn’t any secret about how cool the place is. Over the summer, we were lucky enough to get a private tour of the winery, brewery, and distillery by the impressively smart and handsome distiller, Bryan Jennings. With those qualities it was easy to fall in love with Bryan, but what we really fell in love with was his story.
Distiller and Global Ambassador for Cisco
Bryan’s story epitomizes the spirit of Cisco Brewers. With a Master’s Degree in Microbiology, Bryan spent the first part of his work life genetically engineering viruses. (Sounds pretty impressive to us Bryan!)
Lab life was pretty different from growing up on a cattle ranch in Arkansas. As a boy on that ranch, Bryan always dreamed of traveling the world and doing adventurous things like mountain climbing and surfing. Those things weren’t happening under the florescent lights in petri dishes and test tubes. So, one day in the midst of man-made viruses, Bryan realized he was not being true to himself. He would never have a chance to do the things that made up his childhood dreams if he stayed put.
So, a brave Bryan gave up his very impressive job, and moved to Colorado to teach biology, botany, and environmentalism at a non-profit. This job gave him the opportunity to tear up the slopes and be true to his dreams.
There isn’t much surfing one can do in Colorado. With that goal still on the checklist, Bryan moved to our special little island, Nantucket, for a summer to work and surf.
Lots of good things would happen to Bryan on Nantucket. First, he met and fell in love with the woman who would become his wife. Next, he got to know the owners of Cisco Brewery, named for the beach about 1.5 miles away from where Bryan would surf. As many of us do, Bryan loved hanging out at the brewery. It reminded him of home in Arkansas with the open seating and “at home feel.” So, after spending the day challenging the Atlantic, Brian would head to the brewery, kick back, and enjoy all of its goodness.
As serendipity would have it, one day, someone missed a delivery, and the brewery asked Bryan if he could run it into town. Bryan agreed, and soon he was doing more runs. Eventually, Cisco realized there was much more Bryan could do for the operation. And so, the microbiologist joined the team of brewers, wine makers and distillers, who by the way, use science and agriculture to produce their award-winnings spirits. Sounds like a pretty perfect fit to us!
Bryan would have never thought making whiskey would be his dream job if he hadn’t happened across the opportunity. And it’s not just Bryan who tells his story and love for Cisco with open arms and a smile. Everyone, from CEO Jay Harmon to our bartender Sam clearly loves what they do, and their passion is inspiring!
Sampling Ciders with Sam the Bartender
So, now that we’ve established the ultra-cool vibe that permeates through Cisco Breweries, let’s move on to what we learned on the tour. Not everyone realizes the brewery is made up of three separate producers: Nantucket Vineyard and Cisco Brewers (both opened in 1985) and Triple Eight Distillery (opened in 2000).
Way back in 1981, a couple named Dean and Melissa Long leased ten acres of land to plant grape vines with the intention of opening a winery. In 1985, they finally had grapes! Only it was short lived. With hurricanes and cold winters, there were only about three weeks out of a year ideal for grape growing. So, the Longs made the decision to outsource the grapes to a vineyard in Washington State.
The outsourcing of the fruits still happens today. And when a shipment comes in, all hands are on deck to process the wine. A single cell yeast is introduced and the wine is kept outside french style barrels.
One of our favorite wines we sampled was the pink blush, cranberry infused wine. Delish! Organic cranberries are collected from the windswept bogs. They are then milled, left to hang out a while in the tank getting to know the pino gris until they are good old buddies; perfectly infused. The wine is then filtered and lightly carbonated. As a delightful alternative to rose, it’s no wonder Cisco lovingly refers to this perfectly hued wine as “beach bubbles.” It even comes in a can. But, be careful, one can is half a bottle!
Another one of our favorites, is the “Wash Ashore Red.” Named for the nickname natives have given to residents not born on Nantucket, a blend of 50% cabernet, 40% syrah, and 10% malbec, this gorgeous red has notes of black pepper, plum and chocolate. Besides being an award-winning wine, we also just sort of love the name. 😉
About the same time the Longs were toiling with the grape vines, Randy and Wendy Hudson were playing around with home beer kits; trying their hands at a variety of beers. In the process, they founded Cisco brewery; a fully functional outdoor brewery. The only winery and the only brewery on the island recognized that the pairing of land, knowledge, and man power could benefit both organizations; and so the two joined forces.
Enter Jay Harmon.
In the 90s, the Hudsons met young Jay who was a business student with the pipe dream of opening a brewery on Nantucket. The couple and Jay clicked, and between the brewing know-how and business knowledge, the three decided pairing together would help to ensure the success of Cisco Brewers. Lucky Jay then joined the Cisco way and started to live his dream.
So, how is that magical brew made? Simply put malt, water, hops, and yeast are mixed until the starch is converted to sugar, giving the yeast something to eat. This is when the magic happens and the ethanol is produced.
Taking you along a little bit of a longer explanation, they start off with a “grape nuts” sort of mixture that goes into the “maltster” or “trickster.” So, why the trickster? Because this big tank tricks the malts into germinating.
Next, the mixture is piped over and into the mash tun, where the milled malt is blasted with 165 degrees hot water. The brewers then wait two hours for this giant-sized bowl of hot cereal to malt and become nice and sweet. From Grape Nuts to Frosted Flakes, not so bad!
By this time, the germinating proteins are folded and enzymes are created. The starch cuts up the chains of sugar, giving the added yeast something to eat.
Finally, seasoning occurs and depth and complexity are defined. A lager is made at a lower temperature, whereas a stout is from a roasted darker malt.
One hallmark of Cisco is trying different things, just like the Hudsons did back in the 80s. Some are hits and some are misses. Cisco’s Oyster stout is made by boiling shells into the mixture. This unusual beer has been added into recipes at popular restaurants like Cru Nantucket. Definitely a hit!
Triple Eight Distillery
When you are already producing beer and wine, it’s natural you might want to try your hand at spirits. That roll of the dice resulted in Triple Eight distillery. In 1997, Cisco had their beer and winery license, and technically, a single-malt whiskey is aged (or distilled) beer. So, Dean, Randy, and Jay saw a natural diversification. In 2000, they finally obtained their distillery license.
Because whiskey takes so long to distill, (at least five years) the group decided to make vodka in the interim. Trust us, when you walk into Cisco, head to the hut toward the right and grab yourself a cocktail with some of these fabulous flavored vodkas. Just about everybody is addicted to the blueberry vodka!
COOL FACT: The name Triple Eight Distillery comes from the fact that the spirits are distilled using water from well number 888. The pure, sand-filtered water is credited with making such perfect spirits.
How perfect are the spirits? Well, we sampled a few, and they are belly-warming good. Besides our kudos, they have a few gold medals to tout the purity, love, and smooth taste. Gold medals from the American Spirits Competition have been awarded to the five, 10 and 12 year single malt whiskey. The gin takes home a silver. Not bad for a distillery that has been around for only 16 years and is competing with some of the big boys around the country.
But, given the passion we saw at Cisco for their work and product, we’re not surprised. We’d hang a big, fat, gold medal around all of their necks if we could, because they truly are an awesome group.
October is one of the most beautiful times of year on Nantucket. We encourage you to play hooky one of these days and hop on a ferry over to that small but beautiful little island. Visit Cisco and enjoy a Pumpkin Drumpkin ale under the cool autumn sun. Listen to some live music, while enjoying the sweater weather. Definitely take a public tour and say hello to the people behind the counters! The last is a must, because hopefully, the best thing you’ll take away from your day at Cisco is the infectious zest for enjoying life and Cisco’s passion for what they do. It really is a (fun) and beautiful sight!
Jess and Kim
Thank you to Todd Mazer for your amazing Photography! 🙂
Remember, don’t take yourself too seriously, and love what you do!!!!