NANTUCKET -- The fragrances of this monied island retreat are wild roses, ocean breezes, and steaming lobsters.
But a different scent drifts from an old, weather-beaten barn on the edge of a flower-filled meadow near Nantucket's south shore. Jay Harman opens the doors and the unmistakable whiff of single-malt whiskey spills out.
Inside, 63 oak barrels of three-year-old "Notch" (only whiskey from Scotland can be called scotch) are aging in the musty confines of the barn. It's the most ambitious endeavor to date by a small liquor empire that has sprung up on four acres in a rural nook of the island.
Nantucket Vineyard, Cisco Brewery, and Triple Eight Distillery are clustered around a brick plaza at the end of a curving gravel driveway. Though state liquor laws require them to be run as separate businesses, partners Dean Long, Randy Hudson, and Harman oversee one of the few operations in the world that produces beer, wine, and spirits at a single location.
"The trademark of this place is adventure," Hudson says. "We're willing to try anything, as long as it fits our style. Everything we do is sort of artisanal -- hand done. This place lends itself to that."
That willingness to experiment is evident in the way the whiskey is being sold. Friends, business associates, and others have lined up to buy futures in Notch.
In 2000, when Triple Eight got its distilling license and started making hard liquor, a 53-gallon barrel (about two hundred 750-milliliter bottles) sold for $3,000. The price has since risen to $5,000, and will continue to rise until 2005, when the first batch will be ready to drink.
Barrel owners attended an investors-only dinner earlier this month, when many got their first taste. At 120-proof, it's still a raw product, but initial reviews were favorable, Long says, and the whiskey will continue to mellow with age.
"It's still rough. It's not smooth like a bottled whiskey," Long says. "[But] it's really started to get way better all of a sudden."
It will be another two years before anyone knows whether Notch is a success. In the meantime, Triple Eight, Cisco, and Nantucket Vineyards are rolling along, thanks in part to an unwitting marketing army of thousands.
"People come to Nantucket from all over New England, all over the states, all over the world," Hudson says. "We don't have to go out to all those places and market it because those people are doing it for us."
While Notch ages, the still is churning out gin, rum, and vodka to pay the bills. The latter has been particularly lucrative. "One in four bar drinks contains vodka," Harman points out.
Triple Eight Vodka sales have grown from 240 cases in 2001 to more than 3,000 this year, surpassing Cisco's beer sales. It's now available as far away as Tennessee and was recently picked as one of the world's most promising new vodkas by Robert Plotkin, a Tucson-based beverage critic.
Beer and wine sales are also up, Harman says. These are high times for a business that's been a Nantucket institution for more than two decades. After working as a farm laborer on the island, Long, 48, founded the vineyard with his wife, Melissa, in 1981. Early attempts to grow grapes on the wind-swept island failed, so they began importing them from California, upstate New York, and other wine regions.
A decade later, Randy and Wendy Hudson moved into the loft above the winery and started experimenting with homebrewing. Hudson was a baker by trade, but he soon found he had a talent for making beer.
Hudson applied for a commercial brewer's license in 1994, just in time to capitalize on the microbrew craze of the 1990s. The brewery was named for Cisco Beach, a half-mile down the road. Harman, 29, was a student at Fairfield University, summering on Nantucket and working on a senior thesis on the microbrew revolution, when he met Hudson and Long in 1995. He talked his way into a job and has since become the operation's marketing whiz.
Brand manager Matt Lambo came on board in 2001 and can often be seen in the Boston area hawking vodka and mixing martinis in a blue 1975 VW bus decorated with Triple Eight's eight-ball logo.
If Triple Eight can produce a high-quality single malt, it will succeed where numerous other US distilleries have failed, Plotkin says. "I hope they're not biting off too much," Plotkin says. "Good single malt is about more than just the water. It's about the entire climatic condition of a place, and that's something you just can't change. You've either got it or you don't."
Like many popular summer vacation spots, Nantucket is much quieter in the fall and the scenery is just as beautiful, even if the waters are a little too cold for swimming. Visitors can enjoy whale-watching, fishing, hiking, birdwatching, and many other activities. For information about accommodations and things to do, contact the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce via www.nantucketchamber.org or telephone 508-228-1700.
The brewery, winery, and distillery are located at 5 and 7 Bartlett Farm Road on Nantucket, open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sundays noon to 5. There are sampling bars with free tastes of various products. Tours by appointment only; call 508-325-5929. For more information, visit the website: www.ciscobrewers.com.
Octobeer Fest: On Saturday, Oct. 11, Cisco will be hosting an ``Octobeer Fest'' from noon to 6; food by guest chef Dave Buchanan, and music will be provided. Tickets are $25; call ahead for reservations at 508-325-5929.