For Shore

A taste of Alaska’s craft dis­til­leries.

Porthole Cruise Magazine - - What’s Inside - BY FRAN GOLDEN

Get a lo­cal taste of Alaska’s craft dis­til­leries.

GLACIERS, WILDLIFE, AND AD­VEN­TURE ex­pe­ri­ences of a life­time aside, there’s a new way to get a taste of Alaska. Craft dis­til­leries are all the rage, es­pe­cially in Sk­ag­way, Haines, and Juneau, three port cities of the state’s pop­u­lar In­side Pas­sage itin­er­ary in the South­east.

Nine dis­til­leries across the state are mem­bers of the Alaska Dis­tillers Guild, in­clud­ing sev­eral op­er­a­tions in the An­chor­age and Fair­banks ar­eas. Heather Shade, a founder of the guild and co-owner of Port Chilkoot Dis­tillery in Haines, says each re­gion is de­vel­op­ing its own style.

“Alaska has al­ways been the land of op­por­tu­nity for new things,” Shade says. “And this is seen as some­thing new, some­thing you can in­no­vate with.”

The dis­til­leries sell bot­tles in var­i­ous sizes, for easy pack­ing as sou­venirs and of­ten with la­bels re­flect­ing the re­gion where they are pro­duced. Tast­ing rooms at the dis­til­leries pro­vide the op­por­tu­nity to sam­ple prod­ucts straight out of the bot­tle or mixed in cock­tails. ( Pours are re­stricted by law to 1 oz., three drinks max­i­mum.)

“Rather than just the smoky bar shots and beer cul­ture that seemed to dom­i­nate Alaska for a long time, the dis­til­leries are ed­u­ca­tional and have also raised the bar for how we drink here,” Shade says. In fact, Alaskan-grown in­gre­di­ents are used in the dis­till­ing process, for a taste of Alaska in ev­ery sip.

“Peo­ple may not know this, but we have a pretty large agri­cul­tural in­dus­try and the things that grow re­ally well here are grains like bar­ley and rye,” Shade ex­plains. “We have the raw ma­te­ri­als here. We have the clean wa­ter, we have the grains and the starch. And there’s a lot of in­ter­est in unique Alaska goods peo­ple can bring home.” Raised in the Cal­i­for­nia desert and a bi­ol­o­gist with the Na­tional Parks Ser­vice, Shade had no ex­pe­ri­ence in dis­till­ing — or even home brew­ing — when she de­cided that Haines was where she wanted to live and open a busi­ness. So she did some study­ing of dis­til­leries in the Lower 48 and, along with her car­pen­ter hus­band, Sean Copeland, opened Port Chilkoot Dis­tillery about five years ago. The dis­tillery is in a 1902 build­ing that once housed the bak­ery for his­toric Fort Se­ward.

“I thought this would be some­thing unique for South­east Alaska, some­thing fun, some­thing good for the com­mu­nity that would cre­ate jobs and prod­ucts that would rep­re­sent the town,” Shade says. “I had to go out and learn how to dis­till and we de­vel­oped our recipes over the course of a year while we were ren­o­vat­ing our his­tor­i­cal build­ing.”

Alaskan- grown in­gre­di­ents are used in the dis­till­ing process, for a taste of Alaska in ev­ery sip.

Port Chilkoot gar­nered ac­claim on the in­ter­na­tional dis­tillery scene when its Lon­don Dry– style 50 Fath­oms Gin, made with lo­cally har­vested spruce tips, was a dou­ble gold medal win­ner at the pres­ti­gious San Fran­cisco World Spir­its Com­pe­ti­tion, while their Green Siren Ab­sinthe, made with lo­cal herbs such as worm­wood and anise hys­sop, was named the best in its cat­e­gory at last year’s Amer­i­can Craft Spirit Awards. The dis­tillery also pro­duces Icy Strait Vodka, Boatwright Bour­bon, and Wrack Line Rye.

The la­bels on the prod­ucts were de­signed by Haines artist Laura Rogers to honor the lo­cal fish­ing com­mu­nity. On 50 Fath­oms Gin, for in­stance, there is a hal­ibut — 50 fath­oms (1 fathom = 6 feet) is the op­ti­mal depth to catch the fish.

On the porch at the Haines dis­tillery, you can sip the gin paired with a home­made tonic while you ad­mire your ship in the harbor.


Sk­ag­way’s Spir­its

“Where we start is Sk­ag­way wa­ter,” says Gary Heger, a long-time res­i­dent of the his­toric gold rush town. With his wife, Jani­lyn, and son, Lu­cas, Heger opened Sk­ag­way Spir­its Dis­tillery last year, pro­duc­ing vodka and gin. “It’s all about the wa­ter. This is the first town the glacial wa­ter hits, no fil­tra­tion re­quired.”

In Sk­ag­way, the Heger fam­ily op­er­a­tion is lo­cated a few blocks from the his­toric down­town in a con­verted garage where Gary, a gen­eral con­trac­tor, pre­vi­ously housed his pride and joy, a Model A car. Jani­lyn, who once worked as a tour guide, said it was easy to de­cide what their dis­tillery should pro­duce: “Gin and vodka, be­cause th­ese are two things that I typ­i­cally drink,” she laughs.

The vodka is re­dis­tilled from neu­tral grain spirit with wa­ter from a glacially fed aquifer. The Bone Dry Gin gets its name from the Bone Dry Law in Alaska, which made the ter­ri­tory a dry place in 1918, two years be­fore Pro­hi­bi­tion, Gary ex­plains.

Sk­ag­way Spir­its’ small tast­ing room is done up with relics from the town’s past. There’s a chalk­board from an old school, and the bar is dec­o­rated with old metal from the fa­mous White Pass & Yukon Route Rail­way (now a pop­u­lar shore ex­cur­sion).

Lu­cas is the dis­tiller and came up with the la­bel de­signs: the gin has an iconic pic­ture of gold rush stam­ped­ers go­ing up the treach­er­ous Chilkoot Trail, while the vodka show­cases Sk­ag­way’s harbor.

In ad­di­tion, Jani­lyn cre­ated cock­tails in­spired by the Alaska wild in­clud­ing a Fire­weed Cosmo, which re­places cran­berry juice with pink fire­weed hibis­cus tea. The fam­ily has adopted the tagline for their fledg­ling busi­ness: “Dis­till­ing with pi­o­neer spirit.”


Juneau’s Juneau­per Gin

Opened last year in Juneau, Amalga Dis­tillery is the brain­child of 30-some­things, Bran­don Howard, a re­search sci­en­tist with the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion ( NOAA), and his wife, Maura Se­le­nak, a kinder­garten teacher.

The bright, con­tem­po­rary tast­ing room in Juneau’s his­toric down­town opened last year and was an im­me­di­ate hit with lo­cals as well as vis­i­tors. The dis­tillery is a few blocks from the cruise pier.

Amalga’s Juneau­per Gin fea­tures an ar­ray of botan­i­cals with a base from dis­tilled Alaska grain. The For­aged Vodka comes in fla­vors such as spruce tip, rhubarb, blue­berry, and a slightly salty bull kelp (sea­weed). The cou­ple has en­listed friends and rel­a­tives to help with the for­ag­ing of lo­cal in­gre­di­ents.

Amalga’s most am­bi­tious prod­uct is its Sin­gle Malt Whiskey made in the Scot­tish tra­di­tion. The first batch, 150 bot­tles aged for two years, sold out pre-sale, with the re­lease next year.

Cock­tails de­vel­oped by the pair to show­case their prod­ucts in­clude a G&T with home­made tonic wa­ter, a Macha Li­bre made with green tea, and a dirty mar­tini fea­tur­ing sea kelp brine. AMALGADISTILLERY.COM

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