Vodka on the rocks

Bridget Amos is building a still in the garage. This year, the Dawson West resident plans to make a couple thousand bottles of homemade potato vodka.

Bridget Amos is building a still in the garage.

This year, the Dawson West resident plans to make a couple thousand bottles of homemade potato vodka.

In Ontario, it’s considered bootlegging.

But in the Yukon, Amos’ Klondike River Distillery is deemed a home-based business, alongside bookkeeping and crafts.

Many of Amos’ neighbours are outraged.

A residential neighbourhood with many young families is no place for a distillery, said Dawson West resident Elizabeth Connellan on Wednesday.

It will create unwanted noise pollution, waste, effluent, more traffic and an increased risk of fire, she said.

Four of the residents complained to the liquor board, but only two of the complaints made it in before the deadline.

Despite these written complaints, the board approved Amos’ application.

“The Yukon Liquor Board approves in principle the application of Klondike River Distillery for a liquor manufacturing license provided all the requirements of the Liquor Act and regulations have been met,” wrote liquor board chair Wayne Cousins in a November 16th letter to Connellan.

Connellan checked with Alberta, BC, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario, to compare regulations.

None of these provinces allow liquor to be distilled as a home-based business, she said.

Ontario’s Alcohol and Gaming Commission “does not issue licences to private residences,” it wrote in an e-mail.

“You can make beer, wine, as long it is for your personal consumption. If the wine or beer is sold you could be charged with bootlegging.”

In June, the Liquor Act was amended to allow the production of wine and spirits in the territory.

Previously, the only reference to liquor manufacturing was to brewers, prohibiting entrepreneurs from making any liquor other than beer.

Community Services should have reviewed its development area regulations and zoning at the same time, said NDP MLA Steve Cardiff.

It didn’t.

The current zoning regulations allow for certain small businesses to operate under Dawson West’s rural residential zoning.

The area development regulations were established in 1990, said Connellan.

“At that time, no one was allowed to distill spirits.”

So, when the liquor act changed to allowed the distillation of spirits, this should have triggered something in other departments, she said.

“Now, because distilling spirits isn’t on the list of prohibited (home-based businesses), it’s a go.

“But it doesn’t say you can’t have a brothel either — it doesn’t mean you can.”

Bars and taverns are strictly prohibited in rural residential zoning, she added.

“Common sense dictates that the distillation of spirits, allowed in Yukon since June 2007, would automatically be added to the list of prohibited uses.

“Where is the due diligence?

“Where is the common sense?

“Where is the process whereby new legislation triggers a close look at the consequences of this “benign” amendment to the liquor act?”

“This distillery application seems a little beyond what one might define as a cottage industry,” said Dawson Mayor John Steins in a letter of support to Connellan.

“Light industrial activities should be located in properly zones areas, pure and simple.”

Distilleries and breweries should be zoned light industrial, added Cardiff.

“And currently, there is no size limit for distilleries.”

Yukon government zoning regulations state the business cannot take up more than 20 per cent of the property.

Dawson West is comprised of 15 two-hectare lots.

“That means the distillery could expand to take up a whole acre — that’s not a small business,” said Connellan.

Even home-based mechanics can only have one bay, said Cardiff.

“The lots in question are five acres, which means there is nothing to prevent this small distillery from expanding into a much bigger operation, as long as there is only one non-resident who is employed.

“I am sure that is not what was intended when the area regulations were written.”

Neighbours are concerned about fire, added Connellan.

“Affordable home fire insurance is a challenge in our community,” she said.

The homes, powered by individual generators, are often heated by wood furnaces, voiding the possibility of fire insurance.

In her application, Amos cited a Dawson fire-crew response time of 10 minutes, said Connellan.

But during break up and freeze up, when the ice bridge is compromised, fire trucks would not be able to reach the community.

And Amos plans to do her distilling in the spring, when the ice bridge is all punchy, said Connellan.

Residents are also concerned about generators running all night, to power the distillery.

“The appropriate location for this liquor manufacturing business would be were there is other light industrial manufacturing, full-time grid power, appropriate waste water and solids disposal and a tolerance for 24-hour noise and/or odours that can be expected from a manufacturing facility,” wrote Connellan in an October 16th letter to the Yukon Liquor Corporation.

On November 6th, Connellan went before the liquor board to voice her complaints.

“I went to a gun fight with a knife,” she said.

Connellan was told the only real objection she could voice was to distilling spirits in the Yukon.

“And I don’t object to that,” she said.

Connellan was told her other concerns were zoning issues, and fell under community services.

“Our department has a process in dealing with all the issues with regard to land use and planning areas all over the Yukon,” said Community Services minister Glenn Hart in Tuesday’s question period.

“We are following that process throughout.”