Artisan Spirit: Fall 2023

Page 68

NORTH TO ALASKA Alaskans are staking a claim in the new frontier of distilled spirits


he 1960 movie “North to Alaska,” and its accompanying hummable earworm of a song, chronicled the gold rush days of frontier Alaska. After many struggles, the end of the movie sees John Wayne’s character Sam McCord get the gold and the girl. The hardy people of the North still stake claims today, but in a different kind of gold rush, the liquid gold of distilled spirits. Make no mistake, current state laws don’t make this path easy, but for those who have blazed a trail, other spirit prospectors and their fans will follow.

FAIRBANKS DISTILLING COMPANY 410 Cushman St., Fairbanks, Alaska 99701 (907) 452-5055

Distiller Patrick Levy dug deep into his 35-year history in Fairbanks when selecting a name for his award-winning vodka. In the winter of 1989, Fairbanks plunged into one of its annual deep freezes, which (prior to climate change) used to bottom out around 50-below-zero. But during that week-long cold snap, the running community joke was, “Oh yeah? Well, out by my house it’s 68 below!” “Somebody made a T-shirt that said, ‘I

Written by Carrie Dow and Lisa Truesdale

survived the winter of 1989’,” he said chuckling, and showed off the framed red shirt hanging in the tasting room. When tasting Levy’s 68 Below Vodka, made from whole Alaskan Yukon gold potatoes, there is a refreshing plunge-pool briskness to it. He also makes E.T. Barnett’s Tanana River Naval Strength Golden Rum. A mouthful to say, but enjoyable to sip because he adds local birch syrup for subtle sweetness and a light golden color. But just as interesting as his spirits is the space he makes them in: a historic 1935 building that was once Fairbanks City Hall. “This was the city council chambers from 1937 until 1994 where all the business of Fairbanks was done,” he said. During the gold rush, Fairbanks was also Alaska’s largest city. “Since it wasn’t until 1959 when Alaska became a state, a lot of the state business was done here too,” he added. Because the building was also the headquarters of the Fairbanks police and fire departments, it has firetruck-sized doors that made it easier to install his equipment. The building also has one other important attribute. It is one of only a few connected to the municipal steam heating grid, which means Levy uses the city’s steam heating system to run his distillery instead of having to install a boiler. He then casually mentions the building’s basement was once the ‘drunk tank’ The tasting room inside the original City Hall at Fairbanks Distilling. PHOTO BY CARRIE DOW



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