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Distilling is not bootlegging, would be vodka maker protests

DAWSON CITYBridget Amos is sitting in the West Dawson house that she and her husband Dorian built by hand.At the head of the 1.


Bridget Amos is sitting in the West Dawson house that she and her husband Dorian built by hand.

At the head of the 1.8-metre wooden table, crafted by her husband out of reclaimed lumber, is a cardboard box full of documents as thick as some of the ice that bridges West Dawson to Dawson City proper.

She glances at the box containing the efforts of her plan to make the dream of her home-based business — Klondike River Distillery — a reality.

Amos wants to open a cottage-based distillery in West Dawson City and produce about 2,000 bottles of vodka per year.

“I just can’t believe it ended up being talked about in the Yukon legislature when we’ve spent the last year going through every bit of legislation, every act, policy, zoning law — you name it  — so that we could make this happen,” says Amos.

“I just can’t believe it.”

The West Dawson resident is one of the first to test the Yukon government’s new rules and regulations about diversifying the Yukon economy.

Amos says the Yukon government’s recent sustainability study says that tourism and mining are not enough to keep the Yukon economy going and that it is encouraging economic opportunities as a high priority for this region.

“Our whole business is essentially based on the small, family-farm distilleries of central Europe,” says Amos.

“They’re small, family run, seasonal events that has created an entire cottage industry.”

And Amos is speechless about a recent headline she read saying they were bootlegging when all they are trying to do is produce an alcoholic product on their property that they can only sell to the Yukon Liquor Board.

“How can this kind of misinformation happen? We’re not operating a still and bootlegging. How can it be bootlegging when we have a licence to build a distillery business?”

Although Amos is angry about the widespread misinformation about her business, she thinks she has the answer.

“The two people who registered complaints with the Yukon Liquor Board in Whitehorse about our business in a rural residential area refused to talk to us.

“They couldn’t even be bothered to show up at our open house forum we held in order to inform the neighbourhood of what our plans were.

“And now, it’s ended up being discussed in the Yukon legislature. I mean, if we hadn’t followed every rule, regulation, zoning law, we wouldn’t have gotten to where we are now.”

Whitehorse NDP MLA Steve Cardiff raised the issue in the legislature on December 11 to Glenn Hart, Minister of Community Services.

One West Dawson neighbour, Elizabeth Connellan, who opposes the licence application, told the Yukon Liquor Board hearing in Whitehorse on November 6 that granting it would open the floodgates for other light industrial businesses in the community, adds Amos.

Those types of businesses should be located in properly zoned areas, Connellan told the hearing, adding she’d welcome a crematorium in the neighbourhood.

“Mr. Cardiff brought up the subject in the legislature saying it was a zoning question being left up to the Liquor Corporation board. But the first thing the liquor board checks is if the zoning status is allowed in the area — and it is.”

Amos’ application was granted in principle on November 16.

Two other unofficial letters of concern supporting Connellan’s cause are from West Dawson property owners — one who has not lived there in over a year and a half and the other who has never even spent a night in the neighbourhood.

Another neighbour, who requested anonymity, said he was disappointed with the uneducated and biased attention the Amos’s business is currently receiving.

“There are many other neighbours, including the NDP candidate in Dawson, who lives even closer to the Amos homestead that firmly support this type of business.”

Amos says 87 per cent of the residents are in favour of what they’re trying to create.

“And now what we’re trying to do is deal with the uncertainty of it all because of how it’s been represented to the public.

“I guess what makes it even harder is going through all the rules and regulations and then some people can highjack the whole process.”