68 Below Vodka

Fairbanks Distilling Company, owned by Pat Levy, won a gold medal for its 68 Below vodka at the 2019 Berlin International Spirits Competition last month. On Tuesday, Nov. 12, the Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board voted against a proposed redefinition of "entertainment." The change would have clamped down on the events breweries and distilleries could host in their tasting rooms.

Fairbanks brewers and distillers are celebrating a Tuesday Alcoholic Beverage Control Board vote that rejected what would have been another round of hefty regulations on the businesses. 

The ABC Board unanimously voted against proposal that sought to redefine “entertainment” to include festivals, games and competitions, classes, public parties, presentations or performances and other social gatherings advertised to the general public. 

Under current law, breweries, distilleries and wineries are prohibited to host “live entertainment, televisions, pool tables, dart games, dancing” and “other recreational and gaming opportunities.”

Upon introduction of the proposal in August to further define “other” activities, breweries and distilleries in Fairbanks and across Alaska feared for the health of their businesses. Now, many of the same business owners can breathe a sigh of relief.

“We’re pretty stoked,” said Carey Fristoe, co-owner of Black Spruce Brewing Company.

“This last weekend we did a little veterans celebratory pop-up market with a couple other businesses and released a Yakima Chief hops veterans brew.

“We donated part of the sales to Paws for Purple Hearts and the Military Order of the Purple Heart Fairbanks Chapter. It was an awesome event and something we wouldn’t have been able to do, or at least wouldn’t have been able to advertise, under those previously proposed rules.”

Fristoe, who co-owns Black Spruce with Jake Hovenden and Stephanie Haskins, was not the only local business owner to feel a sense of relief over the vote.

Rob Borland, owner of Ursa Major Distilling, celebrated the vote. 

“That was great news,” Borland said Wednesday. “I wasn’t able to tune in to the meeting, but it sounds like it really went well in our favor.”

Ursa Major Distilling is located in Ester, a small community just north of Fairbanks. Borland opened the doors to his tasting room in May 2015. Since then, Borland noted, the business has been working to benefit the community in more ways than just serving a good cocktail.

Ursa Major has an ongoing charity event benefiting United Way every Friday this month.

“We would have been kind of screwed on that one if this passed,” Borland said. “It’s nice to actually get them off our backs. It really puts a damper on us as business owners, constantly having to fight their regulations and have that on our minds rather than trying to grow our businesses and contribute to the community.

“I’m glad they saw reason this time around. Hopefully we get a break for a while.”

During the meeting Tuesday in Anchorage, ABC Board Chairman Bob Klein said he was blown away by the public response to the proposal regulation change. More than 1,000 Alaskans submitted written testimony against the proposal, it was noted.

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics