Port Chilkoot: ‘Our Distillery’
Fort Seward is an old Army Fort built in
Haines during the early 1900s. Today,
much of the barracks is in disrepair and
the residents of Haines are finding creative uses for the space. A yoga studio,
a smoked salmon shop, restaurants, a
mill, artist galleries, and a hotel have
all moved in. Among this bright cluster
of locally owned businesses stands Port
Heather Shade founded the distillery
in 2012 with her husband and business
partner, Sean Copeland.
“People were skeptical at first; they
were like: ‘You are doing this here in
Haines, why not do it some place where
it is easy, where you are closer to bigger
markets?’” says Shade.
Producing on a budget, endless paperwork, and regulations are obstacles
Shade and Copeland continue to navigate
on a daily basis. Despite these challenges,
the duo have celebrated many successes.
Port Chilkoot has three products on
the market— 50 Fathoms Gin, Icy Strait
Vodka, and 12 Volts Moonshine. The first
batch of a three-year barrel-aged whiskey is expected to release later this year.
These products serve a high-end niche
market across Alaska. Shade successfully
lobbied for legislative changes to allow an
in-house tasting room. And this spring
the couple received a gold medal from
the prestigious National American Craft
Spirit Awards for the best tasting gin.
“I think we have proven so far that it can
be done. Why not in Haines? Why does it
have to be somewhere else?” says Shade.
P2P supports businesses plans that have
positive social, economic, and environmental impacts on their communities.
“We want to be smart about our con-
sumption and use of energy, heat, wa-
ter,” Shade says. “And that made sense
from a business stand point because it
is also cost effective in the long run.”
Waste heat from the production pro-
cess heats the building space. “As for
organic waste, we don’t really have any,”
Shade says. Spent grains are dished
out to the community to feed pigs and
Creating salary-wage jobs and supporting the local economy are important to Copeland and Shade, who hired
their first full-time employee to run the
tasting room last winter.
“Think about all the other people we
are connected to locally to make this
business. Like Laura, who designs our
labels, Kevin, who designed our logo,
Eric, who prints our shirts, and Sally,
who grows our herbs—there is a human
face behind every process,” Shade says.
She stresses how community benefits
extend beyond economics.
“There is something intangible here
as well, and that’s just sense of pride.
Our community is proud now that we
have a distillery and that we have a ski
builder, and I think it does something
psychologically where we are more
willing to get involved or to talk in a
positive way about things that are hap-
pening in our community… It fosters
interest in our community, it fosters
leadership, it gives a sense of change
towards something good,” Shade says.
The community crowds the tiny tast-
ing room to soak in the communal atmo-
sphere, sip spirits infused with local in-
gredients, and catch up with neighbors.
“I hear people calling it ‘our distillery.’ That is what we always wanted, for
the community to think of it as ‘Haines’
Distillery,’” says Shade.
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