Wine — Presenting a New England Vodka 

Presenting a New England Vodka

By Tim Protzman

Triple Eight close competition for Grey Goose


A few years ago I was sitting in an outdoor bar watching the sun go down.

I was in the tropics and there was a laid-back, used feel to everything, including the palm-thatched roof , which rustled in the breeze. Bertram the bartender came from Slough, England and made a decent Pimm’s #1 Cup, which is: Pimm’s #1 (a flavored gin), ginger ale, a squeeze of lemon juice and a cucumber slice as a garnish. Light and herbal-tasting, this drink is lower in alcohol than a gin and tonic, because the Pimm’s #1 is only about 45 proof. It was created for the gentry as a summer afternoon drink, so the lords and ladies wouldn’t get too pissed at Wimbledon or the Henley Regatta.

Feeling hungry, we ordered from the bar menu. My first choice, a personal pizza, was nixed by the waitress.

“Order the grouper sandwich,” she said, knowingly. “If you’re from up north you’ll hate the pizza.”

“Why?” I asked.

“The water,” she replied. “The water down here just isn’t the same. It doesn’t have the same taste because it has different minerals. It makes the dough taste funny and gives it a gummy texture.”

“With a good pizza recipe and the right water, you could conquer the south!” she said as she handed me the grouper sandwich.

She had something there.

One rule of mixology is always use the best ingredients. Squeeze your own juices. Avoid “juice drinks” (with high-fructose corn syrup) as a mixer.

And cover your ice! The most delicate, most delicious cocktail can be spoiled by stale ice that has picked up the scent and flavor of Aunt Margaret’s fish casserole that she made you take home. One friend who likes his single-malt 15-year-old Oban Scotch on the rocks even buys an expensive Italian spring water just to make ice cubes!

So when I interviewed Matt Lambo of Cisco Brewers, Triple Eight Distillery and Nantucket Vineyards a few weeks ago, I zeroed in on his first few sentences:

“Our products, especially the vodka are different because in Nantucket we’ve been blessed with great water from our deep-earth aquifers,” he said. “What this means is that you’re kind of traveling back in time and tasting something you’d never get out of a tap.”

Talk about sticklers for the finest ingredients!  And all the products did have a clean crisp taste.

 Lambo also told me that Triple Eight Distillery was “the first to apply for a new distillery license in Massachusetts in 50 years.”

Which makes the story of the vodka interesting.

The whole company started as a home winery 25 years ago. The wine wasn’t very memorable. Soon they started on beer. That really took off. The beer is really great, but it’s not cheap. In 2000, they started the distillery with a single-malt scotch, which is still aging on Nantucket, and soon began to produce vodka.

Vodka is defined as neutral grain spirits and can be made with anything. Vodka was Europe’s equivalent of moonshine in early times. It can be made in a few weeks. Today it’s refined and flavored and distilled and the most popular spirit. The process for making it is simple. Take something, ferment it and distill it by heating it up and capturing the vapor. Where it gets complicated is, what do you distill? Some spirits have laws and very precise production requirements, but vodka seems to be more free. Vodka is traditionally made from wheat and corn and grains or potato peels. In Tibet and Mongolia they even use dairy products. Vermont Spirits in Passumpsic is making vodka from maple sugar. 

Triple Eight makes  vodka from imported corn. It has a clean taste and mixes well. Even though vodka’s supposed to be tasteless, the ingredients, distillation and filter leave a fingerprint. There’s a big vodka war going on now and it’s for the hearts and minds of the consumer. Who will get the crown as the world’s most ultra-premium vodka? Tasting panels around the world seem to come up with a new ranking every week. The goal should be a good-tasting vodka, alone or mixed, that’s affordable and low in morning-after side effects. Triple Eight does that, but they’re in the premium price range. However, in this phase of the vodka war the combination of domestic price-point discounts and a weak dollar spells bonus for the consumer. Prices are dropping on imported and domestic alike. And I’ve found that being at the top of a tasting panel’s list is great, but bargains and pleasant experiences are often found with any product in the top half of the list. And the do very, very well in taste competitions.

The heart of Cisco Brewers, Triple Eight Distillery and Nantucket Vineyards success is the people who started it and work there. They’ve created a Renaissance Fair like corporate culture. It’s like a medieval guild.They want to grow, but at the right size and speed. They’re very aware of the Nantucket cachet and the branding power. And they’re already capitalizing on their potential as a destination winery/distillery. And most importantly, they make a high-quality product.

Tasting report

Whale Tale Pale Ale ( $6.99 for an almost champagne-sized bottle called a growler.) First thought — Creamy, poured well. Nutty with a crisp clean taste (that Nantucket water again), some hops and a British finish with just the right touch of bitter lemon hints.

Triple Eight Vodka ($27.99) Named for artesian well, number 888, on the south shore. Like Grey Goose without it’s slightly sweet finish. Not a lot of terrior like Stolichnaya , but it had one of the best finishes with absolutely no medicinal aftertaste.

What surprised me was their wine. It’s very much a sleeper hit. Today they import Oregonian-grown grapes. It’s light, with a touch of pear and honey, but nothing cloying and a delicate acidic counterbalance reminiscent of expensive European wine.  Try Nantucket Vineyards Pinot Gris – dry ($15.49).

Tasting Panel Pick of the Week: Out of a blind three wine tasting our Wine Rookie picked Beaulieu Vineyards 2001 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($12.99). Structured tannins —soft but present, grape jelly and smoked pepper highlights.

Find your wine

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission can help you find your wine with a click or two. Just go to, type the name of your wine into the product locator and click “go.” The site’s search engine will come up with a list of stores that carry the bottle you seek.

—Tim Protzman

2005 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH