FAIRBANKS — Craft distilleries are now cleared to begin malting barley, fermenting mash and aging spirits in downtown Fairbanks.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly unanimously approved an ordinance clearing craft distilleries to begin operations in the borough’s commercial districts, including downtown Fairbanks. 

The ordinance allows small craft distilleries to begin distilling, offering tours, samples and directly selling their spirits to customers in the general and central commercial business districts. 

The ordinance maintains a buffer zone between business districts and neighborhoods where alcohol sales and manufacturing are prohibited. 

The ordinance comes as the city of Fairbanks OK’d the sale of the Historic City Hall building for $180,000 to Patrick Levy, the owner of Fairbanks Distilling Company, on Monday. The building houses the Fairbanks Community Museum on the first floor and the Downtown Association of Fairbanks.

The building had been leased to the Downtown Association for $1 per year since 1997. With new owners, Bob Eley, president of the museum’s board of directors, said the museum’s future is uncertain. 

Sponsor Kassel said that the ordinance isn’t specifically concerned with Fairbanks Distilling Company, but is aimed at promoting an activity that he felt is appropriate in all commercial districts in the borough.

Assemblyman Michael Dukes suggested adding breweries and wineries to the mix, but withdrew it because it was outside the scope of the ordinance. Dukes and others said they’d be interested in bringing the two back as a future ordinance. 

The Legislature approved a law allowing craft distilleries to operate like breweries and wineries earlier this year. It passed by a wide margin, despite some concerns about its impact on inebriate problems. The state law that clears distilleries for direct-to-customer sale has not yet been signed by the governor. 

Kassel dismissed concerns that distilleries, which are creating premium craft spirits, would promote public drunkenness in downtown Fairbanks. 

“We certainly don’t want to exacerbate them at all, but this facility would not appeal to (chronic inebriates) at all,” he said. “There is much cheaper alcohol in walking distance.” 

Much of the borough’s focus was on the economic development opportunities distilleries present for downtown Fairbanks.

Levy made the case that it’s a way to showcase the Interior and its locally-produced goods.

“This will be a way we can send tourists home with our Tanana Valley potatoes and our Delta grain,” he said. 

The Borough Assembly was enthusiastic about the ordinance, both for the economic development opportunities it presents as well as locally made spirits. 

Assemblyman Michael Dukes wrapped up questions for Levy with just one more.

“This is the most important question: Single malt or blend?” 

“Single malt,” Levy said. 

The borough assembly voted unanimously to approve the ordinance. 

Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.