by Judy Hodgson
Humboldt County may have a boutique distillery in its future.
The Blue Lake Rancheria Tribal Council is holding a public hearing Sept. 7 to discuss the possibility of establishing a production facility -- called the Spirit Water Distillery -- to make gin, vodka and rum.
"We're a long ways from being ready to talk," said Arla Ramsey, vice chairperson of the tribe, reached by phone Monday.
There's a three-step process, starting with the Tribal Council's consideration of a liquor permit, she said. "Once we have that, then we can go for the federal and state permits. ... It's a massive amountof paperwork."
The tribe's distillery business plan envisions a high-end target market of consumers willing to pay more for handcrafted distilled or redistilled spirits with natural flavoring.
Potatoes from Idaho could be used to make vodka that could then be redistilled with local blackberries for flavor instead of artificial additives, Ramsey said. Gin is produced from grains, with juniper berries for its distinctive flavor component.
"But people are also using cinnamon and caraway, black pepper - a whole array of spices," Ramsey said.
There will certainly be other hurdles ahead for the project. Karen Locken, an investigator for the Eureka office of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Department, said California is one of 18 states that have a three-tiered system, trying to keep producers, distributors and retailers separate.
"We keep making exceptions, however," Locken said. "We have brew pubs that make beer and sell it in their restaurants, like Six Rivers [in McKinleyville]. Robert Goodman manufactures wine and now he's applied for a retail restaurant."
John Carr, public information officer for the ABC in Sacramento, said he is not aware of any other tribe currently in the distillery business. California has licensed 70 distilleries statewide, but none are in Del Norte or Humboldt counties. The closest distillery is Germain-Robin in Ukiah.