By Maia Merrill Gosselin
Matt Lambo is not somebody you easily forget. Cheerful with an impish grin and boundless energy, he is the longtime charismatic frontman for Nantucket-based Triple Eight Distillery’s line of spirits. The company also includes Cisco Brewers and Nantucket Vineyards and over the years Matt has held a variety of roles with them from sales to brand manager. To say he’s been a key presence is an understatement. In fact, if you’ve been in this industry for more than a minute, it’s likely you’ve crossed paths with him. If you’re lucky it was at one of their legendary events . . . Triple Eight knows how to throw a party!
In an industry known for its high turnover, Matt has defied the odds. Recently out of college and not all that enthused about a career in finance (his major), he went on board with Cisco in 2002 and has been with them ever since. I first met Matt a little over twenty years ago while bartending in the Back Bay when he was just starting out, driving around in the company’s iconic vintage VW van. I still remember his big laugh and genuine enthusiasm for a little-known organic vodka brand from Nantucket called Triple Eight. Sales can be a tough road to hoe, but Matt has always made it fun and that’s what shines through. Over the years, the company has expanded both its portfolios as well as its physical presence in the region with six beer/spirit gardens and Matt’s been a part of all of it. Live music has become a core part of their entertainment and they have developed something of a massive and devoted fan base. I caught up with Matt recently to chat all things Triple Eight and a range of other industry subjects. Of course, he’s not all business. Matt is a dedicated family man, fitness enthusiast and even dabbles in real estate. Oh, and he recently launched the first annual Lambo Jambo (more on that later). It’s all about the work-life balance!
MAIA GOSSELIN You’ve been with Cisco for the long haul, 20+ years! Talk about how your role with the company started and how it has evolved to your current position.
MATT LAMBO I am very grateful to have taken this long and scenic career path with Cisco Brewers and Triple Eight Distillery. It’s been sooo much fun! I feel like both the company and my role in it have grown organically from scrappy boutique craft alcohol producers utilizing grassroots sales, marketing, and production methods to the regional mainstay we’ve become. It began in 2002 when I was driving a 1975 VW camper bus, selling our Triple Eight organic vodka from Nantucket. Self-distribution laid the groundwork for some great relationships with longstanding accounts and partners over the years. In Massachusetts, our longest-standing and current distribution partners are Martignetti and L Knife. We’ve also opened six beer/spirit gardens across New England. My role has evolved along with the business. We’ve all learned a lot and continue to learn every day. This mindset has been pivotal to our success.
MG What does an average day entail for you?
ML Usually, my days involve Zoom meetings and emails/calls in the morning, followed by visiting accounts and salespeople midday. I often have industry or charity-related events in the evening, which I enjoy, but I also make time for family, coaching kids, and hitting the gym.
MG Lasting two-plus decades in this industry, let alone expanding, is no easy feat for a craft business. To what do you attribute the company’s overall staying power and success?
ML The number one thing is consistently providing great products coupled with fantastic consumer experiences. It’s amazing how multigenerational our fans are. Usually, when Dad thinks something is cool, the kids don’t. Our demographics buck this trend. Grandma, Dad, and the kids all seem to love our products and our vibes. I love seeing little kids experiencing their first live music (at one of our brewpubs or gardens) while Poppy sips whiskey and Nana drinks rosé. Mom and Dad are drinking IPA or delicious cocktails with the family dog by their side, and everyone is in their happy place! It’s really a special experience that people get passionate about. This is due in large part to the amazing staff. I have been blessed to work with so many fantastic and talented people who really bring the place, party, and products to life.
MG The Triple Eight portfolio has grown significantly over the years and includes not just a line of vodkas but other spirits as well. What’s been the driver behind this expansion?
ML I think the expansion of the product line has been about curiosity and drive from our talented production team coupled with the incentive and desire to create and serve all the libations our visitors may want. This has led to a complete line of beer, wine and spirits including vodkas, gin, rum, bourbon, whisky and RTDs. We really do have a “continuous flow of delicious invention” which at times can feel overwhelming but has resulted in an amazing portfolio of great brands. There truly is something that will work well for everyone. I only want to sell products that are going to be good fits for the retailers/restaurants. Sometimes that is flavored Nantucket vodkas while other times a boutique local spirit may need a better option.
MG How do you get your accounts and customers excited about trying and buying all these amazing products?
ML Our retail beer/spirit garden operations act as a great consumer tasting and education tool to introduce massive numbers of visitors to our products and culture. We also love hosting retailers, servers, and other partners so they can learn and become fans and advocates of our brands. We have thrown some incredible industry parties over the years. Most recently, the Galactic Rodeo at our New Bedford location was attended by 1000+ industry people and included a live professional rodeo! It was crazy and wildly fun!
MG Canned cocktails have proven to be more than a passing fad. Triple Eight launched its line of RTDs, Nantucket Craft Cocktails, in 2020. How is it going, and have there been flavor expansions? What’s the most popular one?
ML NCC has been doing very well. The category got crowded in 2021 and remains crowded, but our brand of Nantucket canned cocktails continues to grow each year. The category has also experienced some consumer confusion. Malt-based seltzers and spirit-based RTDs are very different products but packaging and ambiguous words have made them synonymous to many consumers. Recently, savvy drinkers have come to understand the difference and are gravitating towards spirit-based RTDs making them the fastest-growing category in the industry. Our newest addition to the NCC lineup is Pina Pineapple which has subtle jalapeño balanced with La Langosta Blanca tequila. It’s been very popular. The Cran and Blue 888 vodka sodas continue to sell the most volume. My favorite is the Rise; it has 180 mg of caffeine from real espresso and is 7.7% ABV from Hurricane Rum and Nantucket Vanilla Vodka. It gets the fun going; just don’t have too many if you plan to sleep anytime soon.
MG What are some fun spirit/cocktail trends you’re seeing these days?
ML There is a real focus on carefully selected ingredients from restaurants and consumers. Both with the craft spirits they choose and the freshness and quality of mixers. Cold-pressed juices, exotic teas, and even beneficial plants like aloe or lion’s mane are finding their way into cocktails. Mocktails are also experiencing a resurgence.
MG From staffing shortages to supply chain problems, everyone has been hit hard since the pandemic and had to adapt. How are things today for Triple Eight?
ML Things are good but also ever-evolving. We have grown a lot and learned a bunch along the way. Our executive team is well-seasoned and ever-improving, but there will always be bumps in the road. We are blessed with a great team of bartenders, security, sales, and production people. That said, we are always looking to bring on new people.
MG What’s your favorite aspect of your job?
ML My favorite aspect of my job is the opportunity to interact and build relationships with the diverse and passionate people in this industry. Whether it’s engaging with servers, managers, clerks, small business owners, or my coworkers. The shared enthusiasm and spirited nature of the people I work with make every day enjoyable and rewarding. I also have tremendous gratitude for selling a fantastic plethora of high-quality products that I truly believe in. The most important thing about sales for me is to be able to represent products I genuinely love.
MG How do you maintain your enthusiasm and avoid burnout in an industry known for its demanding nature?
ML To sustain my enthusiasm and prevent burnout in this dynamic industry, I prioritize maintaining a healthy work-life balance. I carve out time for family, engage in activities like yoga, golf, and art, and participate in community events. While I occasionally miss the mark, I find that staying well-hydrated and ensuring I get enough sleep helps me quickly recharge and stay energized to meet the challenges of our industry.
MG You recently hosted your first annual Lambo Jambo! Tell me about it. What was the inspiration for this, and how did the day go?
ML Lambo Jambo was a fantastic experience. It started as an experimental and evolving concept in its early stages. It’s essentially a blend of improv, music, comedy, and a game show with prizes and surprises. The main idea behind it is to encourage people to break out of their shells and create a unique and fun experience while also integrating sponsor prizes and some playful silliness. The motto is: Play Like Kids! Drink Like Adults.
MG And finally, when you’ve parked the VW van and are done for the day, what’s your favorite libation to sip?
ML The VWs have been permanently parked for a while now in our beautiful Nantucket parking lot, giving them a well-deserved rest. However, there have been rumors of a new VW van on the horizon. For a beverage to sip…Gale Force Gin, neat. Best Gin in North America 2023! Also, I love a Nantucket Vanilla Vodka with Diet Coke. Can’t beat real vanilla beans!