Change-averse beer drinkers might want to look away, but Nantucket’s Cisco Brewers recently tweaked the recipe for its iconic wheat ale, Grey Lady.
The news came to me last month via my inbox, and it immediately sparked all sorts of memories. I’m not a frequent visitor to Nantucket, but Grey Lady was often the beer I’d drink on the ferry ride over, or the first draft pull I’d order when I got there. I have a very happy memory of drinking a Blue Haired Lady, a Grey Lady topped with a 1.5-ounce blueberry vodka floater, while huddled with total strangers under a tent at Cisco’s Nantucket brewery to avoid the rain.
What did the old Grey Lady taste like, exactly? It’s hard to say with any precision, but I remember a truly gray-looking, hazy beer with Belgian-inspired notes of banana and clove. A perusal of Beer Advocate’s profile of the beer confirms similar impressions from other drinkers, some of whom very much liked the beer and some of whom (“This smells overly clovey and fruity, kind of overwhelming”) did not.
I always liked it, but being an open-minded beer drinker, I was willing to hear out Adrian Hot, Cisco’s brewery innovations manager, on the reasons for the changes.
“Grey Lady’s been a brand for us for over a decade,” says Hot via a Zoom chat. “It’s a beer that we were looking at as a really fun opportunity to try and remaster the recipe and refine some aspects, and bring out some of the best parts of the beer that we really like.”
Likes, according to Hot: The beer’s haze, spice, and citrus character. Dislikes?
“One of the first things we did was look at the yeast,” says Hot. “We thought the yeast was clashing a bit with some of the nice spice character that we had.
“So we went with a really nice, fruity German strain that we really thought helps make the spices that we’re using and the fruits that we’re using pop a bit more. The next big thing we did was remove some of the clove and added some lemon peel, to add a zest fruit character that really shines with the beer.”
The changes are noticeable, and when I sampled the brew I found myself missing my memory of that Belgian character. But I could also see the point, in a modern brewery portfolio, of making Grey Lady lighter and more summery by tamping down the spice and adding lemon zest. The beer is certainly cleaner now, and easier to drink, if a bit less memorable. One tweak I’d make: the chamomile that Hot says really adds a nice background botanical element to the brew could be even more elevated.
Some housekeeping notes on more changes at Cisco: In 2018, the wholesale side of Cisco, which includes the branding and off-island brewing business, was sold to an arm of Anheuser-Busch. Cisco’s original owners still own and operate the retail side of the business, which includes the Nantucket brewery (and winery and distillery), as well as Cisco pop-ups in New Bedford, Portsmouth, N.H., Boston’s Seaport, Stamford, Conn., and West Palm Beach, Fla.
Grey Lady, brewed with Cisco’s new recipe, is on store shelves now.